Women in Management: Closer to Breaking through the Glass Ceiling?

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Women in management: Closer to breaking through the glass ceiling? *

Today, individual women are creating "historical firsts" as they break through the "glass ceiling" - the invisible artificial barriers created by attitudinal and organizational prejudices that bar women from top executive jobs. For example, over the past year: the first woman to be prime minister was appointed in New Zealand; in Finland, for the first time a woman became President of the Central Bank; the United Nations had its first woman Commissioner for Human Rights, who was the former President of Ireland; and the World Health Organization had as its first woman Director-General, a former prime minister of Norway.These women may be exceptional cases, reflecting strong individual motivation and ability combined with lucky circumstances which allowed them to rise to top positions. Statistical evidence suggests, however, that they represent a distinct trend. An increasing number of women are in line to be selected for high-level positions in private companies, government and politics in the coming decade as a consequence of the swelling ranks of women in lower and middle management.

Women moving into professional and managerial jobs Data gathered and analysed by the ILO graphically illustrate the enormous progress made by women in a large number of countries in obtaining an ever-increasing share of professional and overall management positions. Internationally comparable ILO data ' indicate women's major share of professional, technical and related work - over 40 per cent in many countries and as much as 60 per cent in some (see figure 1). Comparable data on the proportion of women in administrative and managerial jobs also reflect an increase in their share, although the level is lower and there is considerable variation between countries (see figure 2). Women occupy over 40 per cent of administrative and managerial jobs in a few countries, e.g. Australia, Canada and the United States, and around 20-30 per cent in Austria, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Finland, Republic of Korea, Mexico, Norway, the Philippines, Singapore, Switzerland, United Kingdom, Uruguay and Venezuela (ILO, 1996, based on Major Group 2 of the International Standard Classification of Occupations (ISCO-68)). Data collected by the ILO under the 1988 International Standard Classification of Occupations (ISCO-88) show that in 1995, the proportion of women among legislators, senior officials and managers was 20-30 per cent in the Czech Republic, Denmark, El Salvador, Honduras, Hong Kong, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Netherlands, Peru, Slovenia, Slovakia and Spain (ibid., based on Major Group 1 of the International Standard Classification of Occupations (ISCO-88)).

National studies and statistics, even when not internationally comparable, tend to confirm the rising trend of women in management roles as highlighted by ILO data. For example, in Thailand the proportion of women managers grew from 8 per cent in 1974 to 19 per cent in 1990 (Siengthai, 1996). A survey of over 1 million enterprises in Brazil indicated that women's share of management jobs had risen to 17 per cent by the end of the 1980s (de Avelar, 1994). In Hungary women increased their share of enterprise and organization managers from 16 to 25 per cent between 1980 and 1990 ( ILO SEGREGAT database). The movement of women into managerial jobs is by no means even across different economic sectors. Women have tended to fare better in areas traditionally dominated by women - so-called women's jobs. These include education and health services, finance and banking, and administrative, communications, personnel, support and other services. In the United States, women accounted for just over 50 per cent of all financial managers in 1996 (US Department of Labor, 1996). Traditionally, in many instances women have been able to obtain higher level positions in the public service because of governmental equal opportunity policies. …