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Women comprise less than one third of Europe’s executive workforce and the former soviet countries dominate rankings with the most female executive representation, according to a survey by Mercer.
According to the data, the ratio of senior executives and managers that were female averages 29% in countries across Europe compared to 71% of men. It says that in some countries the high level of women working part time may be stopping them from progressing to more senior roles.
Mercer analysed data on 264,000 senior management and executives in 5,321 companies across 41 European countries.
According to Sophie Black, Principal in Mercer’s Executive Remuneration team: “For a gender comprising over half the global population, women’s representation in senior corporate roles is woeful. The cause is complicated. It’s cultural, social, in some cases it is intentional discrimination but it can also be unconscious – the desire to recruit people like you. This unconscious bias is hard to eradicate. The end result of all these issues is a creation of a ‘pyramid of invisibility’ for women in corporate life.
“A woman’s career also receives a ‘maternity penalty’ in the eyes of employers for prioritising childcare duties over work. Corporate culture plays a huge part in causing women to deselect themselves from corporate life. If the culture of a company is such that those holding senior roles are expected to act in a certain way or place work above family commitments, then women will often turn their backs on the corporate ladder.”
According to the Women’s Leadership Development Survey conducted by Mercer in conjunction with Talent Management and Diversity Executive magazines in 2010, despite organisations’ efforts to achieve a diverse workforce, the majority (71%) do not have a clearly defined strategy or philosophy for the development of women into leadership roles.
“Women’s representation on company boards is a big issue and there is substantial noise in the EU about board diversity. It’s not just an issue of gender, of course, although discrimination in any form is undesirable. It’s also an issue of talent as it this sort of bias in a company limits the candidate pool and skill set. A more diverse workforce reduces turnover and absenteeism and increase innovation and creativity,” said Black.
Mercer’s data demonstrates the impact of cultural factors with the Saudi Arabian sample showing no women at all in any senior positions. Qatar is the second lowest on the list with only 7% of these roles held by women. Egypt followed behind with 16%. However, the presence of the Netherlands in the next place (19%) shows another reason for women’s under-representation at senior levels.
“The figure for Netherlands suggests that it is very conservative in its approach to equality in the workplace,” says Black. “Actually, the reverse is true. It’s a progressive nation but, like the UK, has very high levels of women working part time. Part-time work is a major factor determining the low number of women in senior roles and part-time workers tend to be overlooked for promotion. Cultural factors and expectations of childcare responsibilities often mean that part-time work is dominated by women so it has reduced their representation in senior roles.”
According to the data, former Soviet-bloc countries have the highest levels of female participation and equality in Europe. Lithuania and Bulgaria have the highest female representation amongst senior executives in Europe with 44% and 43%, respectively. In fact, the nine countries showing the best representation of women in senior positions are ex-communist states.
“Equality is a legacy from Soviet times with cultural and political life encouraging women to perform an equal role in society and the economy, so women were well represented,” Black pointed out. “However, on the heels of the collapse of the Soviet Bloc came the market forces and this is resulting in a steady erosion of equality which is causing the gender pay gap to widen.”
In Western Europe, the countries with the greatest proportion of women in executive positions amongst the sample group were Greece and Ireland (33%) followed by Sweden (30%) and Belgium (29%). Spain, UK and France all had 28% female representation. Next came Denmark and Portugal (both 27%), Finland, Switzerland and Norway (all 25%) and Italy with 22% representation followed by Austria (21%), Germany (20%) and the Netherlands (19%).