UN study finds increase in women managers, urges greater efforts for workforce equality

A woman works in a small shop in Ghana. Photo: The World Bank/Arne Hoel

12 January 2015 – The last 20 years has seen a surge in the number of women employed in senior and middle management positions, according to a new United Nations report, which notes that although all-male company boards are decreasing in number, more must be done to achieve gender parity.

The study, released by the International Labour Organization (ILO) and entitled Women in Business and Management: Gaining Momentum, covers 80 of the 108 countries for which ILO data is available.

It finds that over the past two decades women have attained 20 per cent or more of all board seats in a handful of countries: Norway, which, at 13.3 per cent, boasts the highest global proportion of companies with a woman as company chairperson, is closely followed by Turkey at 11.1 per cent.

“Our research is showing that women’s ever increasing participation in the labour market has been the biggest engine of global growth and competitiveness,” said Deborah France-Massin, Director of the ILO Bureau for Employers’ Activities, in a press release.

“An increasing number of studies are also demonstrating positive links between women’s participation in top decision-making teams and structures and business performance,” Ms. France-Massin continued, adding that nonetheless there remained “a long way to go” before true gender equality in the workplace is achieved, particularly in top management positions.

Despite the headway made in equalizing the gender gap at management levels, only five per cent or less of the CEOs of the world’s largest corporation are women, the report points out, adding that the larger the company, the less likely it is that a woman will be at its head.

“It is critical for more women to reach senior management positions in strategic areas to build a pool of potential candidates for top jobs such as CEO or company presidents,” the ILO official explained, indicating that so-called ‘glass walls’ still existed with a concentration of women remaining in certain types of management functions like human resources, communications, and administration.

In addition, the report’s findings show that women own and manage over 30 per cent of all businesses but that they are more likely to be found in micro and small enterprises. As a result, helping women grow their businesses remains not only critical for increasing gender equality but also for overall national economic development.

According to the report, Jamaica has the highest proportion of women managers at 59.3 per cent while Yemen has the least with 2.1 per cent. For its part, the United States is in 15th place in the list of 108 countries with 42.7 per cent women managers while the United Kingdom is in 41st place with 34.2 per cent.

Further action in reducing gender equality is critical, Ms. France-Massin said, warning that without it, “it could take 100 to 200 years to achieve parity at the top.”

The report thus outlines a number of recommendations to close the remaining gender gap, including seeking ‘flexible solutions’ to manage work and family time commitments as an alternative to being subject to special treatment or quotas; providing maternity protection coverage and childcare support for professional women; ‘changing mind-sets’ to break cultural barriers and fight sexual harassment; and implementing gender-sensitive human resources policies and measures.

“It is time to smash the glass ceiling for good to avoid controversial mandatory quotas that are not always necessary or effective,” said Ms. France-Massin. “Having women in top positions is simply good for business.”


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