Women’s ‘woeful’ representation in top jobs is blamed on ‘maternity penalty’

21 Feb

Women account for less than one in three senior roles. (pic credit: istockphoto.com/sturti)

Women account for less than a third of senior management positions in Europe – and are penalised for putting childcare duties above work responsibilities, according to research from Mercer.

The report Women in Business – Analysis of Gender Representation in Executive/Management Roles Across Europe – says that the ratio of women: men in senior roles across Europe is 29:71. The UK averages 28%.

It says that corporate often forces women to choose between putting work first at all costs, or “deselecting” themselves from the culture that cannot accommodate work-life balance.

Sophie Black, principal in Mercer’s Executive Remuneration team, elaborates on this point: “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.”

She adds: “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.”

The question is how companies are going to hold onto senior women – as it has been shown in studies that companies with female bosses are more successful. Yet 71% of companies do not have a clear strategy for developing female talent and promoting women to the top roles.

The Mercer survey includes a league table showing the percentage of senior roles filled by women. Eastern Europe takes the lead over Western Europe: Lithuania has 44% and Bulgaria 43% – compared with 33% for Greece and Ireland, Italy 22% and the Netherlands 19%.

Black adds: “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.”

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