Still pushing against a glass ceiling Working women: World survey shows some progress toward gender equality.

December 13, 1997

THE INFLUX of women into the paid labor force during the past several decades has not been confined to the United States. Neither have concerns about "glass ceilings," the level beyond which few women advance in the corporate structure.

All around the world, women are finding their way into jobs outside the home. Many of them are aspiring to higher levels of responsibility, but they are finding varying degrees of success. A new survey by the International Labor Organization looks at the rates of women in administrative and managerial jobs. The findings are mixed.

Women in the United States and Canada have made the most progress in recent years. In the United States, where the qualifications of women workers match that of their male counterparts, some 46 percent of managers are female. In Canada, women comprise 42 percent of the managerial work force.

But look further up the ladder and nothing much has changed -- a worrisome finding for countries like the United States that can boast an ample pool of women experienced in management. Linda Wirth, the survey's main author, notes that in companies around the world, women comprise only 1 to 3 percent of the highest ranks of management -- chief executive officers, presidents and vice presidents.

Ms. Wirth predicts those statistics will change in coming years, as increasing numbers of women gain management experience. One promising sign is that globally women now hold more than 50 percent of technical and professional jobs, the pool of workers from which managers are often recruited.

Already, the ranks of senior managers, those just below the very rTC top rank, are seeing more women. In the Netherlands, for instance, the percentage of women in senior management increased from 10 percent in the 1970s to 18 percent in 1990.

The progress is not confined to industrialized countries. In fact, educated women in many developing countries have an advantage their sisters in the industrialized world can only envy -- a strong support network of extended family, supplemented by affordable and readily available domestic help. In countries like Ecuador or Korea, that support system helps boost the percentage of women managers into the 30 percent range -- comparable to countries like Norway, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

Does it matter that women are not reaching the highest ranks of management? Only to companies willing to recognize that by tapping the managerial talent and creative abilities of all their employees they can gain a significant edge in a competitive global economy.

Pub Date: 12/13/97

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