Glass Ceilings, Glass Walls?

Forbes Woman Africa
Published 8 years ago

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has recently released their survey Women in Business and Management Gaining Momentum which notes that globally whilst women have increased their share of management jobs and as entrepreneurs over the last two decades, all data sources and analyses report a continuing dearth of women in top decision-making positions, as CEOs and board members. In coming up with their findings, they extend on the terminology used to describe the problems women face. We all know about ‘glass ceilings’ and many have heard of the ‘slippery ladder’ where women do not even get to the glass ceiling as they have fallen off the career ladder for whatever reason before they even get a chance to come up against the glass ceiling. The ILO now talks about ‘glass walls’ which they define as segregation by gender within management occupations.

Whilst it may not be their original quote, it notes that “one of the reasons why it can be more difficult for women to be selected for top management jobs is their management experience is not sufficiently diverse. They have not been exposed to all types of company operations during their careers and thus have not gained sufficient experience in general management across several functional areas”.

So in addition to having glass above our heads, we now have glass on our sides as well. We allow ourselves to be placed in career silos. We need to stop doing this and realize that a well-rounded career is vital to get to the top. At least metaphorically, we are surrounded by glass, so we are still able to see where we are going. Whether we are able to use our other senses to navigate is open for debate. The survey revealed 34% of the companies responding indicated that retention of women was a problem. Is this surprising when women are placed into these silos, or rather allow themselves to be, as much as they are?

Interestingly, with regards to women in management positions, some African countries do quite well. Of the 124 countries surveyed globally, Ghana is placed 26th with 39% of all managers being women.  Botswana is 28th and Namibia 37th with 38.6% and 36% respectively. Interestingly, Botswana was one of the countries noted that achieved a 7% or more increase in the share of women in management between 2000 and 2012. That is very encouraging.

Like many surveys of this nature, the implementation of company policy measures on how to solve the problems features prominently. The results this time around though are quite interesting and go away from the norm. About 84% of companies indicate they have maternity leave as part of policy. Why are we even discussing this in this day and age? In contrast, parental leave, i.e., no gender connotation, is practised by 51% of the responders.

It is worth noting what the ILO suggests companies do in order to advance women: Explain and provide evidence on the business case for more women in management; network with other companies on good practices; provide good practice examples of measures and strategies to promote women in management; develop a strategy to promote more women in management; design an equal opportunity policy; network with women’s business associations; provide guidelines on gender sensitive human resource management systems; develop guides on measures and strategies to promote women in management; introduce a mentoring scheme; design a sexual harassment policy; and introduce a sponsorship scheme.

It is significant the first item is the need to explain and provide evidence on the business case. There are pockets of areas globally where the business case has been proven and accepted. In these areas they have moved onto the next step of implementation by those who have been convinced. Sadly, Africa to date is not one of those pockets.