Mª Helena de Felipe

Women in management: Underrepresented?

In this, the second decade of the 21st century, gender inequality remains a defining characteristic of European labor markets. Despite rising participation in the labor force, women’s careers remain concentrated in specific jobs and economic sectors; moreover, their career mobility and advancement though the ranks into management remain limited.

Looking at the differences between women and men in management positions is essential for understanding the labor market and working conditions. Managers are specific group of workers. They are strategically placed, having the role and latitude to shape practices and policies in the workplace. This position gives them a twofold role: contributing to the success of the organization while also guarding the well-being of their subordinates. The underrepresentation of women in strategic positions undoubtedly has repercussions on work and the labor market as it was said by  European Foundation for the improvement living and working conditions.

The curse of the glass ceiling

Data from the European Institute of Gender Equality shows that women accounted for just 25% of board members in the largest publicly listed companies registered in the EU in 2017, although the situation varies significantly between EU Member States.

Research on women who do break through the glass ceiling and attain positions of leadership suggests that their experiences often differ from those of male managers. Women are more likely to occupy precarious leadership positions that have a higher risk of failure – either because they are appointed to lead an organization or team that is in crisis or because they are not given the resources and support needed for success. The term “glass cliff” has been coined to describe this situation where female managers are at a high risk of failing in their management role.

Against this situation, in 2017 theEuropean Commission started a campaign for gender. Strand 3 of the eight main strands of action entitled: “Breaking the glass ceiling: initiatives to combat vertical segregation”, commits the Commission to supporting practices improving gender balance in decision-making processes and positions across sectors.

Key finding

  • Men outnumber in management positions by two to one in the EU. The Members States with the best gender balance in management are Lithuania, Hungary, Cyprus and Latvia, where over 40% of managers are women, more than 5 percentage point above the EU average.
  • Women are underrepresented as managers in almost all economic sector. Management is most gender-balanced in the public sector, although men dominate here too.


While the proportion of workers with a female boss has increased continuously from 24% in 2000 to 34% in 2015, indicating that more women may be reaching managerial positions than in the past, a gender breakdown of management numbers suggests that it still greatly helps to be a man. This holds true even for sectors where the number of women is proportionally greater than the number of men, such as health and education. Women’s best chances of being a manager are in not-for-profit/NGO companies.

Maria Helena de Felipe Lehonten


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