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- Women comprise less than one third of Europe’s executive workforce
- Former soviet countries dominate rankings with most female executive representation
With International Woman’s Day on 8 March 2012, and the EU committed to improving the number of women on executive boards, data issued by Mercer shows the extent to which women are under-represented in senior executive and management positions across Europe.
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.
Mercer analysed data on 264,000 senior management and executives in 5,321 companies across 41 European countries. The data comes from Mercer’s TRS system which provides benchmarking information for companies looking to create and maintain salary levels within their companies. The company analyses the proportion of men and women holding Executive or Management roles. ‘Executives’ are defined here as a person who sits on a company board while Management is defined as someone holding a ‘country head’ or ‘business unit head’ role.
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 Ms 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 Ms 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.”
The EU is committed to addressing gender inequality and the Gender Pay Gap as part of its EU Gender Action Plan. While there is opposition to the imposition of politics into the workplace, Mercer’s data underscores the role that political intervention can play in balancing the inequalities created by market forces. 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 9 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,” Ms 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 the executive suite 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%).
Quota systems to increase women’s representation in business have been in existence for several years in countries like Spain, Norway, France, Belgium and Italy. In the UK, the government is taking steps to improve women’s representation in the boardroom following Lord Davis report Women on Boards which recommends increasing the proportion of women executives on boards of the FTSE 350 group of companies to 25% by 2012.
Central and Eastern Europe
In this region, the split between male and female executive representation was most equal in Lithuania where 44% of executives are female, followed by Bulgaria (43%), Russian Federation 40% then Estonia and Kazakhstan (37%). The countries with the next highest female representation were Serbia (36%), Ukraine (35%), Romania (34%), Hungary (33%), Poland (30%), Slovakia (30%), and the Czech Republic (27%).
Middle East and Africa
In the Middle East, women made up 26% of the executive workforce in Turkey, 23% in Morocco, 17% in the UAE, 16% in Egypt, 7% in Qatar and in Saudi Arabia there was no noted female participation at all.
“Anecdotally during times of recent economic growth, we saw many companies giving specific remits to headhunters for more female executives. This trend has fallen away as the economy has deteriorated which suggests that many companies view it as a luxury for the good times. This is short-sighted,“ concluded Ms Black. “Companies’ failure to improve female representation of on their own will simply result in governments feeling that they have to regulate the issue to effect change.”
Notes for editors
A table listing response numbers and actual figures is attached below. The data was collected from April 2011 but the precise month varies according to country.
Proportion of senior management in European countries ranked according to percentage of women in senior executive or management roles
Note: A Senior Employee is defined as Executive (sits on a company board) or Management (a country head or business unit head). The findings from several countries were excluded as the sample size was deemed to be too small to make credible observations.
|COUNTRY||Number of companies analysed||Total number of employees in sample||Percentage of senior employees that are female||Percentage of senior employees that are male|
|United Arab Emirates||154||4524||17%||83%|
Mercer is a global leader in human resource consulting and related services. The firm works with clients to solve their most complex human capital issues by designing and helping manage health, retirement and other benefits. Mercer’s 20,000 employees are based in more than 40 countries. Mercer is a wholly owned subsidiary of Marsh & McLennan Companies (NYSE: MMC), a global team of professional services companies offering clients advice and solutions in the areas of risk, strategy and human capital. With 52,000 employees worldwide and annual revenue exceeding $10 billion, Marsh & McLennan Companies is also the parent company of Marsh, a global leader in insurance broking and risk management; Guy Carpenter, a global leader in providing risk and reinsurance intermediary services; and Oliver Wyman, a global leader in management consulting. Follow Mercer on Twitter @MercerInsights