Background Gender Balance

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Although women have made substantial gains in the workplace, they are still largely underrepresented in organisations, both in number and status.

In Europe, 46% of the workforce is female and 33% of the women have a high level or managerial position (Eurostat, 2008).

Although 59% of the university graduates in Europe are women, their employment rate is with 21% lower than that of men.

In addition there is a wage gap of 15% between men and women and they remain a minority group in political decision making and senior management positions (European Commission, 2010).

In Europe, an analysis of the top-50 publically traded companies have shown that on average 11% of the top executives are female and 4% of the CEO’s are women. Data of the top 300 European organisations shows that 11.7% of the board members in 2010 are female, up from 9.7% in 2008 and 8.5% in 2006.

Of a total 4,875 board seats, women occupy 571 (EuropeanPWN, 2010). Data from the United States shows that half the workforce is female, and nearly 40% of all managers are women. Among Fortune 500 companies, of the top executives only 6% is female; only 2% of the CEO’s are women and only 15% of the seats on the boards of directors are held by women.

In Asia, analysis of the top 101 companies of the Global Fortune 500 showed that 23% of the organisations had at least one woman in their Executive Committees. However, from the 734 seats available only 20 (3%) were female.

Considering the fact that in western countries women and men have comparable levels of education, account for almost half of the workforce and over a third hold a high level or managerial position, these figures are puzzling (Eurostat, 2008).

Within Europe, the situation varies greatly between the different countries; generally speaking in Northern and Eastern Europe there is more gender diversity than the south and in Germany (European Commission, 2010). Norway, with 42% of women on their boards is the European country that is closest to achieving gender balance; this is a direct result from quota legislation implemented in 2006.

In the Netherlands, labour statistics also show that women are largely underrepresented in high level positions. Women account for 42% of the workforce, of which 53% has a ‘large’ part-time position; only 28% of the women hold a higher educated professional or managerial position (Statline, 2009).

Analysis showed (Female Board Index, 2009) that women in the Netherlands accounted for just 7% of directors, 2.4% of executive directors and 9.5% of non-executive directors. Despite a number of initiatives by the government, non-profit organisations and corporate organisations, these numbers remain low; currently there is a lively debate about adopting a quota strategy to increase the number of women on company boards.

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