Women in business

Norway has highest global proportion of women in top business positions, ILO reports

Photo: Pål Bugge / Innovation Norway Many women have management roles in Norway.

Photo: Pål Bugge / Innovation Norway
Many women have management roles in Norway.

Marit Fosse
Geneva, Switzerland

The last 20 years have seen a surge in the number of women employed in senior and middle management positions, according to a new United Nations report, which notes that although all-male company boards are decreasing in number, more must be done to achieve gender parity.

The report entitled Women in Business and Management: Gaining Momentum was published on January 12 by the International Labor Organization (ILO), and covers 80 of the 108 countries for which ILO data are available.

It finds that over the past two decades women have attained 20 percent or more of all board seats in a handful of countries: Norway, which, at 13.3 percent, boasts the highest global proportion of companies with a woman as company chairperson, is closely followed by Turkey at 11.1 percent.

“Our research is showing that women’s ever increasing participation in the labor market has been the biggest engine of global growth and competitiveness,” said Deborah France-Massin, Director of the ILO Bureau for Employers’ Activities.

“An increasing number of studies are also demonstrating positive links between women’s participation in top decision-making teams and structures and business performance,” Ms. France-Massin continued, adding that nonetheless there remained “a long way to go” before true gender equality in the workplace is achieved, particularly in top management positions.

Despite the headway made in equalizing the gender gap at management levels, only five percent or less of the CEOs of the world’s largest corporation are women, the report points out, adding that the larger the company, the less likely it is that a woman will be at its head.

“It is critical for more women to reach senior management positions in strategic areas to build a pool of potential candidates for top jobs such as CEO or company presidents,” the ILO official explained, indicating that so-called glass walls still existed with a concentration of women remaining in certain types of management functions like human resources, communications, and administration.

In addition, the report’s findings show that women own and manage over 30 percent of all businesses but that they are more likely to be found in micro and small enterprises. As a result, helping women grow their businesses remains not only critical for increasing gender equality but also for overall national economic development.

According to the report, Jamaica has the highest proportion of women managers at 59.3 percent while Yemen has the least with 2.1 percent. For its part, the U.S. is in 15th place in the list of 108 countries with 42.7 percent women managers while the UK is in 41st place with 34.2 percent.

Further action in reducing gender equality is critical, Ms. France-Massin said, warning that without it, “it could take 100 to 200 years to achieve parity at the top.”

The report thus outlines a number of recommendations to close the remaining gender gap, including seeking “flexible solutions” to manage work and family time commitments as an alternative to being subject to special treatment or quotas; providing maternity protection coverage and childcare support for professional women; “changing mind-sets” to break cultural barriers and fight sexual harassment; and implementing gender-sensitive human resources policies and measures.

“It is time to smash the glass ceiling for good to avoid controversial mandatory quotas that are not always necessary or effective,” said Ms. France-Massin. “Having women in top positions is simply good for business.”

This article originally appeared in the Jan. 30, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

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Marit Fosse

Marit Fosse trained as an economist from Norwegian school of Economics and Business Administration in Bergen (Norges Handelshøyskole NHH) and then earned a doctorate in social sciences. She is the author of several books. Nansen: Explorer and Humanitarian, co-authored with John Fox, was translated into Russian/Armenian/French. In addition, Fosse is the editor of International Diplomat/Diva International in Geneva, a magazine set up 20 years ago for diplomats and persons working in the international organizations in Geneva but also elsewhere. In her free time, Fosse is an accomplished painter.