Smashing through the glass ceiling

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Smashing through the glass ceiling

As Middle East Business continues to focus on the status of women in business, we are delighted to present three important articles concerning this issue.

Global momentum means more women move into management

International Labour Organization’s new report shows a positive link between female leadership and business performance and urges a boost to the current level of only 5% of women in top positions globally.

While women are still under-represented in top management, the number of women in senior and middle management positions has increased over the last 20 years, a new study by the ILO’s Bureau for Employers’ Activities finds.

According to Women in Business and Management: Gaining Momentum *, in 80 of the 108 countries for which ILO data is available, the proportion of women managers has increased during this period.

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

“An increasing number of studies are also demonstrating positive links between women’s participation in top decision making teams and structures and business performance. But there is a long way to go before we achieve true gender equality in the workplace, especially when it comes to top management positions”.

Only 5% or less of the CEOs of the world’s largest corporations are women. The larger the company, the less likely the head will be a woman.

More women on company boards

All-male company boards are still common but are decreasing in number, with women attaining 20% or more of all board seats in a handful of countries. A global survey quoted in the study shows that Norway has the highest global proportion of companies (13.3%) with a woman as company board chairperson, followed by Turkey (11.1%).

“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”, explained France-Massin. “However, ‘glass walls’ still exist with the concentration of women in certain types of management functions like HR, communications and administration”, she added.

Today, women own and manage over 30% of all businesses, but they are more likely to be found in micro- and small-enterprises. Getting more women to grow their businesses is not only critical for equality but also for national development, underlines the report.

The report provides statistics on women in management and in business for most countries from all regions and at all levels of development. It also contains data on the gender pay gap at management and lower levels, as well as statistics on women’s achievements in education.

It identifies the growing momentum building around the world to advance women to higher levels of management and lists a selection of the numerous initiatives from various sectors.

More flexible solutions for work and family needed

The report provides the following recommendations to close the remaining gender gap:

•    seeking “flexible solutions” to manage work and family time commitments as an alternative to being subject to special treatment or quotas;

•    providing maternity protection cover and childcare support can bring added value to the company through the recruitment and retention of talented women;

•    “changing mind-sets” to break cultural barriers and fight sexual harassment;

•    addressing the so-called “leaky pipeline” whereby women fall behind despite their high level of education;

•    implementing gender-sensitive human resource policies and measures;

•    making sure women are given as challenging tasks as men from the very beginning of their career.

The authors underline that women and girls receive almost half of all educational resources, thus representing a significant proportion of the available talent pool. Therefore, companies’ investment in attracting, retaining and promoting skilled women is likely to be good for business.

Finally, the report says national employers’ organisations can play a major role in increasing awareness of the business case for appointing women in leadership roles.

“Unless action is taken, it could take 100 to 200 years to achieve parity at the top. It is time to smash the glass ceiling for good to avoid controversial mandatory quotas that are not always necessary or effective. Having women in top positions is simply good for business”, concludes France-Massin.


“According to the report, Jamaica has the highest proportion of women managers at 59.3%, while Yemen has the least with 2.1%. The US is 15th on the list of 108 countries with 42.7% women managers, the UK 41st (34.2%) and the Russian Federation holds 25th place (39.1%). 

Of the 108 countries included in the report, MENA countries make up 16 of the 20 worst ranked places (rank 88 -108). Israel ranks in 52nd place.

In Africa, Ghana occupies 26th place with 39%, followed by Botswana ranking 28th (38.6%). In Asia, the highest ranking country is the Philippines in 4th place (47.6%), followed by Mongolia with 41.9% in 17th place. With 53.1%, Colombia holds the second place at the global level and ranks first in Latin America, followed by Panama in fifth place (47.4%)”.

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