Women on the Way to the Top

By Demirsar, Metin | Management Today, June 1989 | Go to article overview

Women on the Way to the Top


Demirsar, Metin, Management Today


WOMEN ON THE WAY TO THE TOP

Despite the lack of a strong feminist movement in Turkey, women are advancing faster in the business world and the professions than they are in some Western nations. Gunay Apak, general manager of Camis Ambalaj Sanayi, has a challenging career that requires long hours away from her husband and daughter. She heads the glassware packaging plant in suburban Istanbul which employs 410 people, mostly men. `I am not a feminist,' declares the stylishly dressed 43-year-old Turkish businesswoman. `Men and women aren't created equal. Men are superior. Women have to be a notch better to get the same jobs and be promoted,' she adds.

Despite the absence of a strong feminist movement in Turkey, women in this overwhelmingly Moslem country are advancing faster in the liberal professions and the business world than are women in the Western countries. They now account for two out of five of the country's physicists and chemists, one out of six lawyers, judges and public prosecutors, and one out of six doctors. Women managers are still a small minority in Turkey. They account for one out of 10 government administrators and one out of 30 managers in private corporations. Nevertheless, many Turkish women like Apak are moving into top executive positions that in other industrialised countries are dominated completely by men.

The development comes in a country that once boasted the most sexist institution of all time: the Grand Sultan's harem. The advancement of Turkish women in business life and in government, women executives say, is a natural outcome of the westernising reforms of Kemal Ataturk, founder and first president of the Turkish Republic, in the late 1920s. Ataturk opened secondary schools and universities to women, admitted women into the civil service, abolished segregation of sexes in the workplace, adopted secular marriages, forbade polygamy and banned the wearing of the veil. He also granted women voting rights and allowed them to run for elective office long before many European nations gave women political rights.

`Turkish women never had to fight for their rights. These were given to them on a silver platter,' says Gunseli Tarhan, deputy general manager of Turkish Airlines, the state-owned and operated national carrier. Turkish men and women, as a result, earn equivalent wages and have the same benefits in the workplace. `There is no sex discrimination when it comes to wages,' says Beyza Oba Furman, an associate professor of management at Istanbul University.

Most of the women who have attained high management positions in Turkey have been educated and trained in Britain and the US, a factor that has led them to climb the corporate ladder rapidly. But the principal reason why more Turkish women are becoming managers is that more young women are graduating from Turkey's business and engineering schools. (In the 1987-88 academic year, 6,512 out of 18,138, or 36%, of the students enrolled in management studies at Turkish universities were women, and 15,365 of 65,656, or 23%, of all engineering students were women.)

All five of the top women executives interviewed for this article said they were happily married, and could not have succeeded in their careers without their husbands' consent. Nonetheless, the business world has not been kind to the domestic lives of many Turkish women managers, educators say. `Married working women have to play several roles at once -- the housewife, the mother and businesswoman,' says Furman. `These different roles produce a great deal of tension and stress in their personal lives, often resulting in divorces.' Many married Turkish women have had to work in recent years to help their husbands support their families because of worsening economic conditions. …

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