In early 2020, before the outbreak of the pandemic, Eurostat released a statistic about the percentage of women in managerial positions in European countries. In Q3 2020, more than 9.5 million people were registered as holding managerial positions in the EU. Of them, 6.2 million were men and 3.3 million were women. Although women represent around half of all employees in the European Union (46%), they are severely underrepresented among key functions in companies, with only 34% of them holding managerial positions
As worrying as these statistics are, the situation is much better now than it was 20 years ago. This share has gradually increased from just below 30% in Q2 2002 (the beginning of statistics on this subject).
Other statistics released by the Gender Statistics Database of the European Institute for Gender Equality places the percentages of women in top management positions even lower. In the context of all of this, we sought help from Jelena Žikić, Regional Managing Director of Adecco Adriatic and Hungary, in order to better understand the situation.
Dear Jelena, let’s start from the low representation of women in managerial positions. What could be causing this?
There is never an easy answer to this question. Causes are diverse and interconnected. They have to do with cultural backgrounds, access to higher education, all the way to the fact that childbirth and childcare affect the professional path of women. The weightiest cause is the bias in selecting a woman for a particular role; a role traditional assigned to men. This is also the hardest thing to change in order to have more women represented.
Biases are usually fuelled by stereotypes and misconceptions. What are the most common stereotypes and misconceptions when it comes to women in management?
Answering this would create a long list. I’ll try to address three of the ones I’ve come upon.
A. If a woman manager takes strong and direct decisions, she must be a bad person
Tough decisions are often needed to save or strengthen businesses. They are not always the most popular and the people that take them are associated with them directly. For women managers, it’s even more unfair.
Causes are diverse and interconnected. They have to do with cultural backgrounds and access to higher education, all the way to the fact that childbirth and childcare affect the professional path of women
Men might be considered brave and visionary when making an unpopular decision, while women are most often considered bad and unscrupulous when doing so. It shouldn’t be like this. Hard decisions are context related, so it’s only fair that they should be genderless.
B. Leadership in a woman manager is actually “bossiness”
Because women are underrepresented in managerial roles, the sight of a strong and goal-driven woman will draw attention everywhere in Europe. Leadership initiatives that are most commonly attributed to men might be interpreted as being overly pushy if they come from a woman.
C. Anger showed by a woman manager is a sign of incompetence
Anger is maybe one of the most noticeable human emotions. We pass through sets of emotions both at home and at work, and anger is one of them. Double standards again apply – just as for tough decision making, if a male manager displays anger then it might seem normal. But if a woman manager does it, this might be a signal that she is insecure or unfit for the job. Once again, it’s all about context, not gender.
I hope these tips will be helpful and will challenge the beliefs of anyone who didn’t consider them previously. If not, then maybe the statistics will do the trick.
What needs to change for there to be more women in managerial positions?
It should start from access to education for women. The more women graduate higher education, the more experts there are on the market. This would set the stage. State and corporate programmes to fund nurseries and crèches close to crowded business areas would also make a big difference for women who plan to return to work earlier from maternity leave. These changes, together with a shift in the bias mentality, will surely bring more women to managerial roles.