It is puzzling that after so much effort and publicity women are still struggling in the UK to reach the best paying jobs. A recent report by Britain’s Equality and Human Rights Commission reported that 5,400 women are “missing” from the top management jobs.
It is especially puzzling when you read that more and more British women are getting university degrees and actually graduate with higher grades than men. They are even getting entry level jobs with good companies. The problem is women make it to a certain level within the organisation and then that’s it. They either never get promoted into higher management or executive positions, or they leave the workforce completely.
You may be thinking they leave the workforce to have children, but that is an assumption. Many women leave because they see their current positions as being dead-end. Rather than twist in the wind trying to move up in an organisation that clearly is dominated by men in the upper echelons, they leave to pursue other opportunities like self-employment.
Even more puzzling about this situation is the fact that women do succeed in politics in Europe. In the UK, there was the successful Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is looked up to as the solid stable force in an unstable Eurozone, and she is well respected. Christine Lagarde, the first French female finance minister, is now Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund. However, despite the success of a few women, the key word is “few”.
According to the European Institute, UK women make up as little as 7 percent of the FTSE 250 company executive board positions. That number is lower than statistics for China, Brazil or Russia. In the European Union, women hold 10 percent of the organizational board seats.
There is a call for mandatory quotas, but quotas don’t work. They only work in terms of forcing an organisation to hire women whether or not the management wants to. Quotas do not change the way people think. This is supported by the fact that studies have shown European business leadership continues to believe there is no problem. You can point out the statistics, read research results, and state the facts. Yet if someone wants to believe that there is no problem, then they are not going to act. In fact, the corporate leadership generally seems to believe that there are not enough qualified women to fill positions. Imposing a quota will do nothing to change their mind.
What can be done? The pressure to hire women must come from within the organisation. The shareholders and even the staff must hold the organisation accountable. A company can get a lot of bad publicity about hiring practices that could shame them into rethinking their policies and procedures. Changing people’s attitudes and perceptions is never easy, but force will never work.
It never does…