Breaking Through the Glass Ceiling

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Breaking through the Glass Ceiling:
Women in Management

In the last decades, professional situation of women has improved. The opportunities of women to get better education have grown, and so has the level of women in professional and managerial jobs that historically had been held by men. In 2001, women stood for almost 40 per cent of the worldwide labor force; yet, they had and still have to be confronted with the persisting gender pay gap and, in what considered the employment of women in senior positions, also with the “glass ceiling”.

By studying statistical data, in her research Linda Wirth analyzed how the situation of women in professional and managerial work has developed over the last decades. Wirth starts her chapter with statistical issues involved in classifying professional and managerial employees and describing the development of women’s situation in professional and managerial jobs. Wirth explicitly describes the situation of women at the top, women in finance, women in public sphere and in politics. Further, Wirth examines earnings gaps between genders and the obstacles that prevent women from reaching the top. Wirth concludes that the growth of women’s economic power will help reduce the discrimination of females in the professional sphere.

One of the main difficulties of the research by Wirth was to make conclusions on this development considering the fact that even the notion of occupational classifications is different across organizations and across countries and in some countries has changed its meaning over time. The adoption of the single ISCO-88 statistical system by ILO has made international comparisons of job classifications possible. To provide a true picture of women in professional and managerial positions, only data from countries with full and matching statistical information were selected.

There has been a positive development in women’s employment in professional work, which shows progress in gender equality between employees. At the end of the 1990s, half or more of professional jobs in 23 countries selected by the author, were held by women. In the countries of Eastern and Central Europe this progression could be explained by policies to support working mothers, and in some other industrialized countries - by women’s movements. However, within certain professions, women often still had to occupy lower and less paid positions than men.

If in the last decades there has been a real progress in women’s professional employment, in managerial positions women still stand for a very small fraction of total employees. By the end of the 1990s, only 2 to 16 per cent of women in 29 selected countries were holding senior positions, representing on average only 7.6 per cent of senior employees in these countries.

An interesting but expected fact is that in selected developing countries, where the number of employed women is low, the divergence between the proportion of women in total employment and their proportion in professional and managerial jobs is less than in some industrialized countries. While in certain industrialized countries the discrimination of women with regard to the quality and nature of jobs they have to undertake remains persistent, in some developing countries, the share of women in senior positions is more significant. This fact may be explained by a higher demand for skilled workers and better household and family assistance.

By providing examples of ILO statistical data for some countries, Wirth shows how the proportion of women in executive managerial positions has increased over time. Yet, this development has been generally low, slow and inhomogeneous across selected countries. The reasons of this uneven progress to some extent may be explained by economic changes as well as different cultural and social mindset in individual countries.

The number of women in the highest executive positions is even lower, and at the end of the 1990s...
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