The research – conducted by The Peterson Institute for International Economics (IIE) and EY among 21 980 listed firms in 91 countries – found that businesses with 30% female leadership add up to six percentage-points to its net profit compared with this firms that lacked female leaders.

“The impact of having more women in senior leadership on net margin, when one-third of companies studied do not, begs the question of what would be the global economic impact if more women rose in the ranks?” Stephen R Howe Jr, EY US Chairman and EY Americas Managing Partner asks.

“The research demonstrates that while increasing the number of women directors and CEOs is important, growing the percentage of female leaders in the C-suite would likely benefit the bottom line even more.”

Of the companies studied, almost one-third didn’t have women on the board or in a senior management position, while 60% of them have no women sitting on the board.

In addition, half of the companies had no women in top executive roles and less than 5% of the companies had female CEOs.

READ MORE: Women leaders still dismally underrepresented at JSE companies: Bwasa

The global picture doesn’t deviate much from the local landscape as demonstrated in the Business Women’s Association of SA’s (Bwasa) 2015 Women in Leadership Census that found that only seven of the 293 JSE-listed companies surveyed were run by women.

Just 34 companies had more than 25% of women in director or executive managerial positions, earning them Top Performing Companies status.

On the board level, most women who sat on boards did so in a non-executive capacity, with women accounting for 11,6% of directorships and chairperson positions, of which 9,2% chaired the board and 2,4% were CEOs.

While much ground had been made since 2010 when just 7,1% of women held directorship positions compared with 29,3% last year, Bwasa President Farzanah Mall said the findings left much to be desired.

Speaking at the launch of the census last year, Mall said: “While we commend the Top Performing Companies for their increased representation of women, it is very concerning that only 8,79% of JSE-listed companies have 25% or more women directors. People are our greatest asset. In a highly interconnected and rapidly changing world, organisations and countries must adapt strategies and innovate in order to remain relevant and competitive.”

The latest research add credence to a 2015 McKinsey & Co report that found that companies in the top quartile for gender parity are 15% more likely to earn financial returns higher than the national industry median.

READ MORE: What will it take to achieve real change for women in leadership?

“We have found that some policy initiatives are more promising than others to deliver benefits, while promoting gender equality, and that the emphasis should be on increasing diversity in corporate management,” said IIE President Adam Posen.

“At a minimum, the results from our unique global study strongly suggest the positive impact of gender diversity on firm performance and identify in which sectors and countries the most progress on diversity needs to be made.”