English suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst (left, 1858-1928) and a protestor on a women's march in January 2018 in Washington DC © Getty Images/The Asahi Shimbun
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This year marks 100 years since women were first given the vote in the UK. And the recent wave of female activism and empowerment through initiatives such as the #MeToo campaign has led 2018 to be dubbed the year of the woman.

But could this also be the year that all-male executive teams begin to be consigned to the history books? According to the 2018 EY Growth Barometer, which was published this week, diversity has shot up the recruitment agenda of middle-market companies. Forty one per cent of the 2,766 top executives surveyed cited diversity as their biggest priority, compared to only 11 per cent in 2017.

Women are still a minority at the top, however. Of the companies surveyed, a little less than a quarter of their executive leadership is female and 4 per cent have a woman as chief executive. It is interesting to note, though, that the research found that women lead 17 per cent of the companies with the highest growth ambitions.

I enjoy a long conversation on what it means to be a woman in 2018 with Phyllis Newhouse, a US military veteran who went on to set up cyber security company XSI in Atlanta, Georgia.

Now she is behind a women’s movement that will launch later this year, where “women of economic power and women of voices come together to create change”, she tells me.

The idea was sparked by a conversation she had at an EY entrepreneur gathering last year with American actress and producer Viola Davis. Ms Newhouse is tight-lipped on details of the new movement, or the other big names whom she says have come on board with it, but she does say that it will galvanise men and women globally to take on issues such as domestic abuse, sexual assault, women’s health and unequal pay, as well as tackling the poor representation of women in leadership positions.

“We’re going to start calling those people out,” says Ms Newhouse. “What #MeToo did is a campaign. It was necessary, but we need a movement, something that says we are going to hold government, businesses and organisations accountable.”

Governments might also want to take note of another stark finding in the Growth Barometer research. Last year, 74 per cent of global chief executives said they would never adopt robotic process automation. This year, 73 per cent said they were already adopting or planning to adopt intelligent automation and machine learning in the near term. The swing to artificial intelligence might be happening quicker than we think.

Additional blogging by Emma Boyde

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