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The “Glass Ceiling” : Women in management positions in public and private sector and in politics

Updated on 29 November 2013

Across the EU, women are still largely outnumbered by men in positions of responsibility. Women remain substantially under-represented in senior positions, particularly at the highest levels, whether in politics,  business or administration. For example, in the EU Member States, women represent around 27% of members of parliament and government ministers. And although major progress has been made over the years, even in the European Parliament today women only account for 36% of members.

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The situation is worst in industry, with women making up an average of 17% of  board members in the largest EU listed companies and only 4% of women members on the council of presidents. The European Parliamentary Research Service’s Statistical Note ‘Women in politics, business and public administration in the EU‘ from November 2013 offers a global overview.

At the end 2012, the European Commission proposed new legislation (COM(2012)0614) to tackle the issue of women’s underrepresentation in business management. The aim is to reach a 40% balance for non-executive board-member positions in publicly listed companies, with the exception of small and medium enterprises. The proposal is dealth with by the European Parliament through procedure 2012/0299(COD). The EPRS Briefing ‘Gender Balance on company Boards‘ / Rafał Mańko, November 2013, describes the state of play in this matter.

In view of the thematic week on “Legal Initiatives for Business and Growth in the European Union,” the European Parliamentary Research Service has updated this Keysource with a selection of recent publications and background information on the topic.

Table of Contents:  1. EU Publications    2. Background information    3. Specialized articles and studies   4.Statistics & Infographics   5. More information

Some EU Publications

Women and men in leadership positions in the European Union, 2013 : A review of the situation and recent progress / EC, DG JUST, October 2013, 38 p.

This report aims to highlight the gender gaps that remain in leadership positions in in politics and in the private and public sector but also to show the progress that is being made to reduce them. It includes examples of action taken by governments, business and other stakeholders to boost the participation of women in leadership positions.

Women on Corporate Boards in Europe / DG IPOL Pol Dept C Note PE 474.412, Colette Fagan, Claire Genta, March 2013, 14 p.

This note summarises the main findings from research which combined an international overview of trends in women’s representation on corporate boards with in-depth case study analysis of eight European countries. The countries were selected because they encapsulated different policy approaches: quotas, ‘soft law’ governance codes and non-intervention. Well-designed quota tools are found to be an effective means of stimulating change in non-executive board positions, despite being considered contentious by many stakeholders. Policy recommendations are drawn from the results of this project.

Legal instruments for gender quotas in management boards / DG IPOL Pol Dept C Note PE 474.413, Sylvia Walby, Claire Genta, March 2013, 16 p.

The note offers an analysis of the existing legal instruments for gender quotas on management boards. It addresses the range of companies that are targeted, the proportion of each gender to be represented, the timetable for implementation, the sanctions that can be applied and the nature of the legal regime within which the laws are developed. The focus is on legal instruments in the Member States of the EU.

The recruitment practices in top management and non-executive directors’ positions in Europe / DG IPOL Pol Dept C Note PE 474.410, Zubia Hawcroft, Elaine Dewhurst, Claire Genta, March 2013, 16 p.

This note examines the barriers to recruitment of women in top management and non-executive directors’ positions in Europe from the perspective of an Executive Search Agency. It also analyses the proposed Directive and makes relevant recommendations for development of such a system. It concludes that, as a minimum, the barriers to recruitment should be the main focus of any action in this area.

Electoral Gender Quota Systems and their Implementation in Europe : Update 2013 / DG IPol, Policy Dept C, Note PE 493.011 / Lenita Freidenvall, Drude Dahlerup, Emil Johansson, Erika Schulze, June 2013, 22 p.

The note maps the diffusion of electoral gender quotas in the 30 EU/EEA countries and evaluates the effectiveness of different quota types in different electoral systems. It shows that legislated quotas are implemented in eight countries and party quotas in 14 (additional) countries. It also shows that some gender quotas have resulted in major leaps in women’s representation, while others had led to almost no change.

Women in decision-making : The role of the new media for increased political participation / DG IPol, Policy Dept C, Study PE 493.010 / OpCit Research, Erika Schulze, June 2013, 118 p.

The study reviews the barriers to women’s involvement in politics and, through case studies and research with new media users, how new media may help to increase women’s involvement at different levels of political participation, including formal representative politics.

Actions for Gender Balance in the European Parliament – EP Elections 2014 : Compilation of Briefing Notes / DG IPOL Pol Dept C Note PE 493.009, Erika Schulze, Workshop 20 June 2013, 59 p.

The note addresses (a) legislative and research-analytic measures regarding gender equality in the media, (b) basic assumptions and some of the findings of the EIGE Project “Women in Media Industries in Europe”, and (c) recommendations aiming at the increased involvement of mainstream media in the participation of women in political decision-making, in view of the upcoming EP Elections 2014.

Women in the European Parliament : Political Posts – Administrative Posts / EP Equality and Diversity Unit, 2013, 14+14 p.

This annual publication shows the representation of women and men in the EP, both at political and administrative level. It also provides information on gender equality bodies and stakeholders and on policies and achievements in the field.

Recruitment and Equal Opportunities Systems in National, European and International Civil Services / EP, DG IPOL, Pol Dept C, 2008

After defining the civil service, their size and the proportion of women, this study offers an overview of recruitment systems and equal opportunities policies in the public administrations of the Member States of the European Union, the European institutions, the Secretariat of the General Assembly of the United Nations and the Secretariat of the Council of Europe.

Background Information

Towards more women in Europe? / Pascale Joannin, Fondation Robert Schuman Policy Paper, European issues No 268, March 2013, 9 p.

This policy paper gives an overview of the share of women in governments, in national parliaments, amongst MEPs, in the decision-making in the biggest companies. It also focuses on the issue of women and power.

Gender Equality in Boardrooms : Prospective for Europe / Loredana Stan, Fundación Ideas, Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, Executive Summary WP 1/2013, 16 p.

This working paper begins with a brief empirical analysis of the state of the question in the EU based on information and statistical data drawn from secondary sources. It subsequently provides a contextualisation of gender equality in the business sector that considers how quotas have been used as mechanisms of public policy as well as other national and supranational variables (normative pathway, positions of corporate and social partners on gender equality, and public opinion).

Women Matter 2012 : Making The Breakthrough / McKinsey & Company, 2012

Today, women remain underrepresented on corporate boards and executive committees. The report presents the recent work to benchmark the gender diversity programs of 235 European companies, the majority of them among the Continent’s largest.

Women on Boards in Europe : From a Snail’s Pace to a Giant Leap ? / EWL, 2012

The report assesses the current situation and progress in ten European countries. It provides a comprehensive overview of the measures adopted in recent years at national level to increase the representation of women in the boardrooms. Based on this analysis the report proposes how legislation and other policies could be made more effective – both at the EU level and at national level.

Glass Ceiling is Cracking : Self-regulation Beats Quotas FINNCHAM, 2012

Women’s number on corporate boards increases still sharply. This can not be said about the CEO and executive management levels. But the number of women leading business operations has increased. The comparisons between Finland, Norway and Sweden are interesting and show how well the Finnish self-regulatory regime functions.

Women in Parliament in 2012 : The Year in Perspective / Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), 2013

This annual IPU brochure provides an overview and analysis of progress made and setbacks encountered by women in parliament further to elections and renewals held over a year.

Specialised Articles and Studies

The Glass Door: The Gender Composition of Newly-Hired Workers Across Hierarchical Job Levels / W. Hassnik, G. Russo, IZA – Institute for the Study of Labor, 2010,

This paper examines the gender composition of the flow of new hirees along the organizational hierarchy of jobs. Findings show that women have a reduced chance to be hired at higher hierarchical levels, a phenomenon referred to as the “glass door”.

Electoral Gender Quotas : A Conceptual Analysis / Mona Lena Krook. In : Comparative Political Studies, 2013, 26 p.

Electoral gender quotas have become the subject of a growing literature in comparative politics, with the potential to affect how scholars study a wide range of electoral and representative processes. Yet, debates have emerged over how to define and categorize these policies, with implications for the ability to compare cases and draw broader conclusions about their impact in countries around the globe.

Contagion theory revisited : When do political parties compete on women’s representation? / Tània Verge, Meryl Kenny, September 2013, 27 p.

‘Contagion theory’ suggests that the dynamics of diffusion and competition influence a party’s propensity to put forward more women candidates – or to adopt candidate gender quotas, in its more recent applications. Specifically, the equality strategies on women’s representation adopted by small (generally leftist) parties on the political periphery will incentivize other rival parties to follow suit, especially in countries with PR electoral systems.

Rising to the Top : Gender and Party Leadership in Advanced Industrial Democracies / Diana Z. O’Brien, ECPR Conference Paper, March 2013, 27 p.

Party leaders are the main actors controlling campaign strategies, policy agendas, and government formation in advanced parliamentary democracies. Despite the importance of this role, to date there has been little cross-national research addressing gender and party leadership. The extent to which female politicians have served in these posts is largely unknown, as are the factors that account for variation in parties’ propensities to select women as leaders.

Women in High-Level Politics: The Role of Path Dependence / Ekaterina R. Rashkova, Working paper series on the legal regulation of political parties, no. 28, January 2013, 28 p.

Gender inequality is a known phenomenon in many spheres in life; yet, it is especially conspicuous in high-level governmental positions. Men tend to get elected more and more often to posts of vast political importance. In comparison to established democratic countries, the gender gap in high-level political positions is larger in developing democracies. Extant scholarship suggests however, that the gender gap is reduced by democracy and democratic practices of inclusion and equality.

Can Gender Parity Break the Glass Ceiling? / M. Bagues, B. Esteve-Volart. Review of Economic Studies, 2009

This paper examines whether the gender composition of recruiting committees matters. It makes use of the unique evidence provided by Spanish public examinations, where the allocation of candidates to evaluating committees is random. We find that a female (male) candidate is significantly less likely to be hired whenever she (he) is randomly assigned to a committee where the share of female (male) evaluators is relatively greater. Evidence from multiple choice tests suggests that this is due to the fact that female majority committees overestimate the quality of male candidates.

Leadership and Gender: Dilemmas in UK Public Administration / K. Miller, 2009

Within a public administration context the lack of the descriptive representation of women at senior or leadership echelons of the public service limits women’s ability to impact upon decisions and policy processes, and consequently limits the substantive representation of women in policy.

Statistics & Infographics

Database : Women and Men in Decision Making / EC, DG JUST

This database covers positions of power and influence in politics, business, public administration, the judiciary, and various other key areas of the economy. Data on political decision-making at European and national level are updated quarterly; other data are updated annually. Political data at regional level are included in quarterly updates in case of elections.

Women’s Representation in National Parliaments, 1960 – 2013 / Centre of Economic Studies (CES) / DICE, November 2013

Infographics, offering a visual presentation of the proportion (precentage) of women in parliaments.

World map : Women in Politics 2012 / Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) and the UN-DAW

The poster is a “snapshot” of the presence of women in the Executive and Legislative branches of Government, in January 2012.

More Information

More information on the glass ceiling and the situation of women in politics, business and  the administration can be found in thisselection of publications from our Catalogue and from the EP Library’s intranet pages

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