Women are under-represented in many aspects of decision-making in the economy. This is especially evident at the level of top management teams and boards where, as a new research shows, the majority of companies especially in the South Eastern Europe (SEE), still have no or few women in leadership positions. This is not only a social concern but also a serious matter for businesses and their competitiveness since research has shown how gender diversity on boards can positively impact company performance.
SEE still has predominantly male boards
In the last decades, we have witnessed much progress in improving gender equality in the European Union. Female employment rates have increased from 54.8% in 2003 to 58.8% in 2013, and almost 60% of university graduates are female. Yet, women continue to be under-represented in leadership positions. This is especially evident in boardrooms where, on average in large listed companies, women hold only about 20% of board positions
New GEMA survey results show the under-representation of women on boards of directors in SEE countries. 35% of responding companies had male-only boards (13% female-only boards). Only 19% of responding companies would currently meet the European Commission’s recommendation to have at least 40% representation of each gender on their boards. As far as top management teams are concerned, the data show more gender diversity at this level of decision-making team. 14% of responding companies had male-only TMTs (11% female-only TMTs), and 35% had a female CEO.
Trapped under the glass ceiling or in the glass labyrinth?
GEMA research disclosed that main barriers to achieve gender balance are organisational cultures and practices, women`s views of themselves, lack of importance attached to the topic, gender stereotypes, multiple roles and work-life balance and also patriarchal social norms.
Respondents agreed that barriers to gender diversity in boards and top management teams are complex and multi-faceted, ranging from deeply ingrained social norms, to individuals’ attitudes and behaviors, to gender-biased organisational cultures and practices.
Glass Labyrinth is a metaphor proposed by Alice Eagly and Linda Carli in 2007. They argue that the existing Glass Ceiling description of an invisible barrier on woman`s climbing up the corporate ladder can be mis-leading because it implies a single obstacle at one point in women’s career paths while the metaphor of a Glass Labyrinth symbolises the complexity of barriers to succeed, in GEMA research findings evidented as: (1) A high-level theme that emerged from the GEMA research data was that traditional social norms and values create a powerful impediment to women progressing to leadership positions. Even though equal opportunity legislation exists in all the countries, these deep-seated traditions about gender roles shape the discourse and behavior in both public and private domains.
(2) A second high-level theme from our data is how women view themselves and their career paths. Strongly linked with wider socialisation into gender roles, our respondents noted that many women may not wish to put themselves in the limelight, under-estimate their own abilities or simply do not have enough role models to follow.
(3) These views are reinforced through discourses that stereotype female leaders, which are often associated with their perceived femininity, or lack of feminine qualities. Several respondents noted that this form of stereotyping creates a Catch 22 scenario that serves as a barrier to women putting themselves forward for high profile positions.
(4) Finally, there are also barriers at the organisational level. First and foremost, respondents stressed that gender diversity in decision-making teams is not on the agenda of many companies, and if it is, it tends to have a low priority compared to other initiatives.
Why can balanced teams work better?
Based on the evidence from surveys, interviews and good practice case studies, results show that:
(1) more gender-diverse boards are strongly associated with strategic task performance, and a higher proportion of females on board is associated with higher levels of service task performance,
(2) talented staff can and do progress,
(3) women constitute an important consumer group thus there`s a need to capture their voice in top decision-teams,
(4) improving gender diversity is important for social justice reasons, but there is also a persuasive business case. Gender diversity in boardrooms and management teams is associated with better team dynamics and team outcomes which ultimately affect companies’ financial and social performance.
Awareness raising events in Bulgaria, Macedonia and Slovenia
At the International Women`s Day 2016 awareness raising events are organised in research countries Slovenia, Bulgaria, Croatia and Macedonia.
Conference on the benefits of balanced teams in leadership positions “JIN AND YANG OF A SUCCESSFUL TEAM” will be held on 8th of March in Ljubljana. The conference will host dr. Sonja Robnik from the Ministry of Labor, Family, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities, Sonja Šmuc, executive director of the Association of Managers and representatives of successful Slovenian companies. All present at the conference will be addressed by National Assembly Vice-President, MSc. Bojana Muršič, MSc. Tanja Fajon, MEP and Jože Smole, ZDS Secretary General. Five representatives of recognized Slovenian companies will speak at the round table about the benefits of balanced teams on leadership positions.
On 7 March, in Sofia, the Bulgarian Industrial Association (BIA) together with the Association of women entrepreneurs in Bulgaria (Selena) hold a special discussion meeting entitled "Gender balance in business - let's break the Glass Ceiling" dedicated to the International Women's Day and within the promotional campaign of the European GEMA project (Gender-Equal Management Approach, funded by the EU Progress programme). Stakeholders invited to the discussion are representatives of the Ministry of labor and social policy, Ministry of Economy, a member of the European Parliament, Confederation of independent trade unions in Bulgaria, Gender Project Foundation, Council of Women in Business, companies and media.
Celebrating International Woman’s Day, Business Confederation of Macedonia and the Association of Business Women will organize the discussion on 'Gender balance in BUSINESS – let’s tear down the GLASS CEILING' which is scheduled to be held on 8th of March 2016 in the Conference Hall of the Business Confederation of Macedonia.