Women in business and management

ILO report says women’s labour force participation would bring significant economic and business growth to Eastern Europe and Central Asia

The ILO’s new regional report on Women in Business and Management: Gaining momentum in Eastern Europe and Central Asia brings together data collected from an ILO global company survey and incorporates latest research and labour market information from the region to explore the status of women in business and management across the region. While the region is already a world leader in female labour force participation, increasing the share of women in highly productive sectors could bring additional gains.

If women were to participate in the economy at the same rate as men, Eastern Europe and Central Asia could see as much as a US$1.1 trillion boost to gross domestic product (GDP), or an additional 23 per cent of annual regional GDP.

The region is a global leader in terms of women in senior management, with 20 per cent of enterprises reporting a top female manager compared to the global average of 18.6 per cent. However, women are more likely to be managers in small companies and are over-represented in support functions like human resources and communications, which offer less exposure to core business and therefore a more difficult path to top executive roles. In addition, women managers in the region are concentrated in lower and mid-levels management. The ILO company survey which forms part of the report confirms this “leaky pipeline” phenomenon as it finds that nearly 75 per cent of companies in the region report that the retention of skilled women is a challenge in their business.

One of the most significant gaps in Eastern Europe and Central Asia is seen in women on corporate boards, with women holding an average of 8.5 per cent of board seats compared to a global average of 18.5 per cent. Most studies show that in order for companies to reap the full benefits of gender diversity on boards, a critical mass of 30 per cent women is needed.

Women in the region also continue to perform an uneven proportion of family and household responsibilities, spending on average 1.6 to 6.2 more hours per day on unpaid work than men do. These barriers can act as disincentives for women to enter and stay in the workforce, and combine with cultural norms and gender stereotypes to limit women’s career choices and advancement.

Despite these challenges, there are several bright spots for women that offer promising avenues for future improvement. Women increasingly compete on the same level as men in terms of educational attainment and business exposure, with women tertiary graduates now surpassing men in 23 out of 25 countries in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Women are also increasingly becoming employers, accounting for 25 per cent of all employers in 23 out of 25 countries in the region.

According to the ILO company survey, the top 5 measures for companies to promote women in management in Eastern Europe and Central Asia are: exposing women to all company operations and functions, executive training for women, assigning women managers visible and challenging tasks, recognition and support for women, and providing mentoring schemes. 

The report was published at the end of March 2018. The full version of the report can be found here