International Women’s Day is widely celebrated around the world to recognise the economic, political and social achievements of women. This day is a significant occasion to review how far women have come in the drive for equality, recognition and development.

In the workplace, women have definitely made significant progress in the past 10 years, with some succeeding in roles previously held by men. Some examples include Dr Angela Merkel, Germany's Chancellor, Ms Indra Nooyi, chairman and chief executive officer of PepsiCo, and Ms Ho Ching, CEO of Temasek Holdings, who were all ranked Most Powerful Women in the World in 2011.

They are real-life examples of women who have succeeded in what is still largely a man’s world. And most will tell you they did not do it alone. They had mentors and guides, many of whom are men.

However, despite the growing numbers of women in the workplace and in senior positions, gender diversity in many organisations is still an issue, especially when it comes to career advancement. The “glass ceiling” for women may have received a few cracks in the past few years but it still needs some good hard knocks before it can be totally broken.

Last year, the percentage of women who are Fortune 500 CEOs and on boards or senior executive teams stood at 3 per cent and 15 per cent respectively. Research from the 2011 Grant Thornton International Business Report also showed that women currently hold 20 per cent of senior management positions globally. In Asia-Pacific countries (excluding Japan), the figure is 27 per

Research from studies by McKinsey, Catalyst and Pepperdine University has highlighted the relationship between corporate performance and the presence of women in leadership positions.

A 2007 Catalyst report, The Bottom Line: Corporate Performance And Women’s Representation On Boards, found that on average, Fortune 500 companies with more women on their boards of directors turned in better financial performances than those with fewer women board directors.

A survey by McKinsey reported that the higher the priority of gender diversity, the more likely a company will take actions to support it. Gender diversity in the organisation cannot be achieved overnight and companies have to place it as a high priority in order to bridge the gap between men and women in the top levels of management.

Organisations like Citibank (Citi) recognise gender diversity as one of their competitive advantages. Across the world, including Singapore, Citi has women’s networks and committees focused on gender diversity, and these play a critical role in helping the bank attract, develop and retain female talent through the networking, coaching and mentoring, professional development, and community outreach programmes they offer.

This year, the bank is supporting International Women’s Day globally in its 200th anniversary year to underscore its commitment to the recruitment, involvement and advancement of women.

Citi’s core policies and practices demonstrate its ongoing emphasis and commitment to diversity. These include diversity councils, employee networks, recruiting, training and development programmes, work-life strategies and community partnerships. In Singapore, about 37 per cent of the senior management positions in Citi are held by women.

Says Ms Tracey Woon, Head of Investment Banking for Asean and Head of Global Banking, Citi Singapore and chairman of the Women’s Diversity Committee in Singapore: “At Citi, we have a series of development programmes designed to accelerate the advancement of women in senior management positions.

“The Singapore Women’s Diversity Committee provides women with awareness about managing and developing their career. Specifically, various programmes such as mentorship, career talks and networking opportunities are made available to cater to different needs of our female talents.”

According to the study by McKinsey, some measures to promote gender diversity include monitoring progress in gender-diversity programmes by top management, supporting programmes and facilities to help reconcile work and family life, having options for flexible working conditions and creating skills-building programmes aimed specifically at women.

Apart from creating opportunities for women to climb the corporate ladder, a company’s community partnerships should also emphasise diversity. For example, Citi Foundation announced a $1 million grant to support the Calvert Foundation’s new Women Investing In Women Initiative, to advance the economic empowerment and financial inclusion of low-income women around the globe as part of its celebrations of International Women’s Day.