Access to the world of work: the female point of view
According to the study Women in Business and Management: Gaining Momentum of the ILO, published in late 2014, “women have made many gains in access to education, and it follows that they have increased access to employment. Today, a third of the world’s enterprises are run by women, and their management skills are increasingly recognized as well. There is more and more evidence that achieving gender balanced and diverse management teams at all levels in the hierarchy produces positive business outcomes. Yet age-old gender stereotypes still overshadow women’s contribution to businesses. Top of the list of stereotypes across all social and cultural contexts is their ability to balance work and family responsibilities”.
The world of work has changed dramatically in the last generation due to falling fertility, aging of populations and migration, as well as increased access to education and technology.
While these initiatives are implemented within the framework of the social requirements concerning physical segregation of men and women at workplaces, they nevertheless provide new opportunities for women to earn income and to apply their knowledge and education at technical and managerial levels. In many parts of the globe, the main role of women is still perceived as carers for families and households. In terms of sheer daily hours of work, this has given rise to the so called “double burden” of being a worker, a career or business woman in addition to attending to family needs.
Today, women own and manage over 30 per cent of all businesses, ranging from self-employed (or own account workers), micro and small enterprises to medium and large companies. However, women tend to be concentrated more in micro and small enterprises. They represent around 24 per cent of all employers in all regions except the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) where they are around 6 per cent. By comparison, women represent 31 to 38 per cent of own-account workers across all regions except the MENA countries, where they make up almost 13 per cent of those who are self-employed.
Social customs and traditional gender roles in many countries and certain regions, such as the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia, greatly influence the role women are able to play in labour markets and in decision-making generally. However, as a means to enhance economic growth there is increasing governmental and societal support for the education and economic engagement of women as long as social and religious norms, particularly in relation to family responsibilities, are respected. The route for women to gain access to management positions is thus being opened up with efforts to counter the low labour participation rates of women and to create a larger pool of qualified women. Some multinational companies are spearheading the hiring of women and promoting more women in their management structures in such countries. In a bid to nationalize their labour markets, the Gulf countries and Saudi Arabia are providing incentives to speed up women’s entry into the labour market, including as managers and business owners.
Guy Ryder Director General International Labour Office declared: “promoting gender equality at the workplace is not only the right thing to do, but also the smart thing to do. A growing body of evidence shows that utilizing the skills and talent of both men and women is beneficial for enterprises and for society in general. While many multinational companies are already on this track, a major challenge is to ensure that national firms, especially medium and large sized firms, receive advice and tools on how to advance women and improve their business outcomes. National employers’ organizations have a strategic and timely role to play as the business world is on the cusp of recognizing how women’s contribution to economic decision-making can make a positive difference to the “bottom line” and business performance. It is heartening to see that, with the support of national employers’ organizations, many companies from the developing regions responded to the ILO company survey that provided rich material for the global report”.
The investigation conducted by the ILO shows that there are arguments in favour of the promotion of women in business and women. Academics and analysts have been examining to what extent more gender balance in management teams and boards actually improves business performance and if the “bottom line” is negatively affected when all decision-makers are men only. When it comes to a woman being the chairperson of a company board, the percentages decline sharply. While data from different sources vary, they generally show the small degree to which women are leading boards – generally in the range of zero to a few per cent in a number of countries there was some increase in the percentage of women as chairpersons from 2009 to 2013 while in others it declined. The ILO company survey found that 87 per cent of the boards of respondent companies had a man as president while 13 per cent had a woman as president. Some commentators describe progress as “glacial” and consider that unless action is taken it could take 100 to 200 years to achieve parity at the top. One consequence of this inertia is that a number of countries have moved to legislate controversial mandatory quotas for women on company boards, with Norway being the first. The European Union is currently considering extending these to its member states with a draft Gender Directive passed by the European Parliament in November 2013 and still under consideration by the European Council of Ministers as of mid-2014. Other countries, notably Australia, Canada, Hong Kong China, India, Malaysia, Singapore, Pakistan, United Kingdom, United States of America, while stopping short of quotas, have adopted a variety of measures to promote more women in management, such as inclusion of gender diversity requirements and reporting in corporate governance codes, codes of conduct, voluntary targets and cooperative initiatives between business and government.
“Glass walls”: Women concentrated in specific management functions
One of the reasons why it can be more difficult for women to be selected for top management jobs is that their management experience is not sufficiently diverse. They have not been exposed to all types of company operations during their careers and thus have not gained sufficient experience in general management across several functional areas. The concentration of women in certain types of management reflects the “glass walls” phenomenon, which is segregation by gender within management occupations. While women are gaining access to more and higher levels of management, there is a tendency for them to be clustered in particular managerial functions.
Women are increasing their share of managerial jobs ILO data shows that women’s labour market participation rates are generally still proportionally higher than their share of management jobs, and in many countries the gap is considerable. However, women are gradually increasing their numbers as managers. In the majority of countries for which ILO data was available over time during the last decade, women have increased their share of management jobs. In 77 per cent – or 80 of the 104 countries for which ILO data was available, the proportion of managers who were women increased. In 23 countries the increase was by 7 per cent or more as shown in Figure 3 below. However, in some 23 countries women’s share of management actually fell, despite their increasing labour force participation and their higher levels of education. This indicates that gains made in the advancement of women in management are not always sustained and can be easily reversed unless there are concerted efforts to consolidate progress. The countries that saw a decline in women managers are from all regions and levels of development. In only a few cases did both the labour force participation and the proportion of women in management decline. Women reaching senior management positions in greater numbers are critical for building a pool of potential candidates for the top jobs such as chief executive officer (CEO) or company president. ILO data provided by 49 countries give an indication of the proportion of women in senior and middle management in the private and public sectors combined in 2012. Given that legislative quotas in many countries have boosted the proportion of women as legislators and that legal requirements for equal opportunity in the public service are driving the appointment of women at higher levels of management, the figures are likely to be lower for the private sector alone.
Women overtaking men in education
In most regions, women are surpassing men with degrees at Bachelors’ and Masters’ levels. In many countries, this is not a recent phenomenon and already two decades ago, women had reached parity in obtaining degrees. Differences in the choice of study focus between men and women are declining in many areas.
Getting rid of the glass ceiling and glass walls
What can companies do?
- Explain and provide evidence on the business case for more women in management
- Network with other companies on good practices
- Provide good practice examples of measures and strategies to promote women in management
- Develop a strategy to promote more women in management
- Design an equal opportunity policy Network with women’s business associations
- Provide guidelines on gender sensitive human resource management systems
- Develop guides on measures and strategies to promote women in management
- Introduce a mentoring scheme
- Design a sexual harassment policy
- Introduce a sponsorship scheme
Barriers to women’s leadership
- Ranking of Barriers to Women’s Leadership
- Women have more family responsibilities than men
- Roles assigned by society to men and women
- Masculine corporate culture
- Women with insufficient general or line management experience
- Few role models for women
- Men not encouraged to take leave for family responsibilities
- Lack of company equality policy and programmes
- Stereotypes against women
- Lack of leadership training for women
- Lack of flexible work solutions
- Lack of strategy for retention of skilled women
- Inherent gender bias in recruitment and promotion (ranked the same as) 12. Management generally viewed as a man’s job
- Gender equality policies in place but not implemented
- Inadequate labour and non-discrimination laws
Role of national employers’ organizations
National employers’ organizations are critically important as they already have key networks of national businesses and programmes in place. With the evolution of labour markets, the high educational and skills levels of women and their growing role in national economies and political life, women today hold a wealth of talent and resources that can be tapped by companies large and small. Employers’ organizations can play a key role on creating greater awareness among their members of this potential and advising on how to adapt policies and practices at the company level for women’s talent to be optimised and for women to participate in decision-making and so improve business outcomes.
The way forward to promoting more women in business and management
What companies can do to promote women in management?
- Awareness on the business case for more women in management
- Equal Opportunity/Diversity Policy – written and disseminated
- Sexual Harassment Policy – procedures and penalties
- Sensitization of company managers on gender stereotyping and diversity approaches
- Assessment of employee profiles (sex, age, skills, etc.)
- Survey/consultation on employee needs in relation to family responsibilities
- Setting targets and establishing a monitoring and reporting system
- Career planning for both men and women
- Ensure equal access to training for men and women/special training for women
- Assign young women challenging and visible tasks, assignments, projects
- Expose women as well as men to operations across the company
- Flexible working arrangements (time and place – telework)
- Re-entry programmes after career breaks/staying in touch during leave
- Encourage male employees to engage in family care (leave, working hours, etc.)
- Assist in child and elder care arrangements
- Results based employee performance evaluations
- Encourage networking
- Mentoring (unwritten rules and processes)
- Sponsorship to the top
- Company/industry awards
- Appoint women to senior management, CEO, Company Board and Board Sub Committee members
- Appoint women managers to key/strategic roles, not only HR, finance and CSR managers
- Foster role models (women managers, male gender champions) and use them as examples or inspiration
- High level management commitment essential!
- What employers’ organizations can do to promote women in business and management?
- Awareness raising of EO staff on the business case for gender diversity and equality
- Design and implement an internal policy on gender equality
- Awareness of EO staff on strategies for companies to promote women in management
- Gender balance in EO staff – role model
- Consider mechanisms/structures within the EO to implement gender related activities
- Consider conducting a participatory gender audit within the EO to establish a baseline and the way forward
- Provide guidance to member affiliates and companies on promoting women in management and assistance with self- assessment or audit of the company’s needs
- Develop or strengthen links with business women’s associations to know about their experiences and strategies and to provide ‘voice’ to their goals
- Policy advocacy on addressing obstacles to women’s entrepreneurship (access to credit facilities, resources, BDS, training, etc.)
- Policy advocacy on legal frameworks that can promote women’s access to decision-making in private sector
- Partnerships with academic institutions for research and with media for advocacy on women in business and management
- Launch annual awards, exhibitions and fairs, to attract public and media attention
EQUALITY MEANS BUSINESS
Women’s Empowerment Principles
- Principle 1: Establish high-level corporate leadership for gender equality
- Principle 2: Treat all women and men fairly at work – respect and support human rights and non-discrimination
- Principle 3: Ensure the health, safety and well-being of all women and men workers
- Principle 4: Promote education, training and professional development for women
- Principle 5: Implement enterprise development, supply chain and marketing practices that empower women
- Principle 6: Promote equality through community initiatives and advocacy
- Principle 7: Measure and publicly report on progress to achieve gender equality