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Women Advance in Management, But Fall Short of Top Positions

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Thursday, January 15, 2015

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Young professionals joining the workforce are more likely to report to a woman than 20 years ago. An International Labour Organization (ILO) study shows women gained momentum at the workplace in the last decades by increasing their representation in management posts. The road to the executive suite continues to be long, though, given that fewer than 5 percent of CEOs at Fortune 500 companies are female. In the Latin 500, it’s even lower—at just 1.8 percent. The good news, however, is that over the last 20 years the number of women filling the ranks of management grew by 7 percent or more in 23 of 104 countries in the study. More than 30 percent of the world’s businesses are owned or managed by women, who hold 40 percent of jobs worldwide. Still, the larger the company, the harder it is to advance, says the ILO report.

Jamaica, Colombia, and Saint Lucia lead the 108-country ranking with nearly 60, 53, and 52 percent respectively of women holding management positions. The United States stands at position 15, where 42.7 percent of managers are female.

In Latin America, being a large economy does not translate to more women in management; Brazil and Mexico stand at 31 and 51, respectively. In Brazil, 37.3 percent of managers are female while in Mexico the figure is 32.1 percent. In Peru and Argentina, women represent roughly 30 percent of management positions. Coming in at number 73, Chile ranks lowest in the region, with 23.9 percent of women accounting for management posts. But others are showing progress; Ecuador, Mexico, Uruguay, and Panama are the only Latin American countries with a 7 percent increase or more in the share of women managers between 2000 and 2012.

Hurdles on the Path to Leadership

Despite positive growth in management roles across countries, the study warns of a concentration of women in certain career areas—a trend the report calls “glass walls.” Women tend to be managers in fields such as human resources and communications and are less represented in areas like operations and sales, which can represent an obstacle for women to reach the top. According to a global survey by Catalyst, Norway is the only country where women hold more than a third of board positions. In the United States, the number falls to 19.2 percent. Meanwhile, the ILO survey points to women having limited experience in key management positions as an obstacle to reaching C-level positions. “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,” says France-Massin, director of the ILO Bureau for Employers’ Activities. She says that “it could take 100 to 200 years to achieve parity at the top” if nothing changes.

Other barriers persist as well. A new Pew Research Center study on women and leadership shows that 40 percent of respondents believe women are held to higher standards when advancing to leadership levels. Considering the 108 countries in its survey, the ILO also lists unbalanced family responsibilities, corporate culture, and a lack of role models or mentorship programs as hurdles. The organization recommends that companies adopt flexible work time and career planning policies for both men and women. The ILO also suggests that firms assign young women more challenging projects that are important for company growth and create awareness on how women in management help improve business performance.



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