Mercer analysed data on 264,000 senior management and executives in 5,321 companies across 41 European countries.
The data comes from Mercer’s TRS system which provides benchmarking information for companies looking to create and maintain salary levels within their companies.
The company analyses the proportion of men and women holding Executive or Management roles. ‘Executives’ are defined here as a person who sits on a company board while Management is defined as someone holding a ‘country head’ or ‘business unit head’ role.
Sophie Black, principal in Mercer’s executive remuneration team, said: “For a gender comprising over half the global population, women’s representation in senior corporate roles is woeful. The cause is complicated. It’s cultural, social, in some cases it is intentional discrimination but it can also be unconscious - the desire to recruit people like you. This unconscious bias is hard to eradicate. The end result of all these issues is a creation of a ‘pyramid of invisibility’ for women in corporate life.”
“A woman’s career also receives a ‘maternity penalty’ in the eyes of employers for prioritising childcare duties over work. Corporate culture plays a huge part in causing women to deselect themselves from corporate life. If the culture of a company is such that those holding senior roles are expected to act in a certain way or place work above family commitments, then women will often turn their backs on the corporate ladder.”
Mercer’s data demonstrates the impact of cultural factors with the Saudi Arabian sample showing no women at all in any senior positions. Qatar is the second lowest on the list with only 7% of these roles held by women. Egypt followed behind with 16%. However, the presence of the Netherlands in the next place (19%) shows another reason for women’s under-representation at senior levels.
The EU is committed to addressing gender inequality and the Gender Pay Gap as part of its EU Gender Action Plan. While there is opposition to the imposition of politics into the workplace, Mercer’s data underscores the role that political intervention can play in balancing the inequalities created by market forces.
According to the data, former Soviet-bloc countries have the highest levels of female participation and equality in Europe. Lithuania and Bulgaria have the highest female representation amongst senior executives in Europe with 44% and 43%, respectively. In fact, the nine countries showing the best representation of women in senior positions are ex-communist states.
In Western Europe, the countries with the greatest proportion of women in the executive suite amongst the sample group were Greece and Ireland (33%) followed by Sweden (30%) and Belgium (29%). Spain, UK and France all had 28% female representation. Next came Denmark and Portugal (both 27%), Finland, Switzerland and Norway (all 25%) and Italy with 22% representation followed by Austria (21%), Germany (20%) and the Netherlands (19%).
Quota systems to increase women’s representation in business have been in existence for several years in countries like Spain, Norway, France, Belgium and Italy. In the UK, the government is taking steps to improve women’s representation in the boardroom following Lord Davis report Women on Boards which recommends increasing the proportion of women executives on boards of the FTSE 350 group of companies to 25% by 2012.
In this region, the split between male and female executive representation was most equal in Lithuania where 44% of executives are female, followed by Bulgaria (43%), Russian Federation 40% then Estonia and Kazakhstan (37%). The countries with the next highest female representation were Serbia (36%), Ukraine (35%), Romania (34%), Hungary (33%), Poland (30%), Slovakia (30%), and the Czech Republic (27%).
In the Middle East, women made up 26% of the executive workforce in Turkey, 23% in Morocco, 17% in the UAE, 16% in Egypt, 7% in Qatar and in Saudi Arabia there was no noted female participation at all.
Black added: “Anecdotally during times of recent economic growth, we saw many companies giving specific remits to headhunters for more female executives. This trend has fallen away as the economy has deteriorated which suggests that many companies view it as a luxury for the good times. This is short-sighted.
“Companies’ failure to improve female representation of on their own will simply result in governments feeling that they have to regulate the issue to effect change.”