- Since the 1980s women have been earning about one-third of the MBAs awarded in the U.S., yet they comprise only two percent of Fortune 500 CEOs and eight percent of top leadership positions
- For the same period, women have made up more than 40 percent of new entrants to the legal profession, but they are still less than one-fifth of law firm partners, judges, and general counsels
- In most democracies, women constitute a majority of voters, but hold proportionally less ‘seats’ of power
- Across Europe, women constitute about a third of managerial positions but only three percent of CEOs
- In the UN, as of 2009 women made up 40% of all of all staff in the professional and higher categories with appointments of one year or more; but only 26% of all staff at director level and above, equivalent to the legal profession.
- 17% of UN-equivalents of CEOs are women, which is a marked improvement on other sectors. But actual gender balance has only been achieved at the P1 and P2 levels – the lowest professional grades.
- Of the most powerful roles in the sector – UN Secretary General, World Bank and IMF chief – none has been held by a woman – but watch this space…
- Little comparative statistics appear to be publicly available from NGOs, Red Cross or bilateral agencies (if anyone has access to such data, please do share)
Importantly, gender bias is not just about equal representation – this is just the most visible tip of the iceberg. The overall status of female staff can be described as an emergent phenomena of organisational culture that may have little to do with stated rules and regulation. In leadership and management contexts in particular (as a post from a fellow blogger will illustrate shortly), there are a variety of micro-level and informal attitudes and dynamics that while acceptable in themselves add up to an overall institutional bias against women. And this particular version of the ‘invisible hand’ sinks many hopes.
The recent dramas involving the head of the IMF is a point in case, revealing a disturbing degree of tolerance towards sexist attitudes. In 2008 a female colleague – whose relationship with Mr Strauss-Kahn was the subject of a public investigation by outside lawyers – described the former IMF chief as “a man with a problem that may make him ill-equipped to lead an institution where women work under his command”.
And yet his position was not compromised by this. In fact, he is still widely described as an outstanding leader for the organisation. One wonders how these two statements could possibly be true at the same time.
While this clearly needs to be explored further in the context of international agencies, it is clear that women navigate a different societal and organisational terrain from their male counterparts. Could any reader imagine a world where someone was described as ‘ill-equipped to lead an organisation with men under her command’, but was still seen as an outstanding leader?
As long as treatment of women remains an side-issue at the most senior levels of an organisation – and as long as this kind of moral and ethical gymnastics between the public statement and private attitudes continues – it seems inevitable ‘gender mainstreaming’ in the wider world will continue to be empty jargon within international agencies.
Overall, we are unlikely to see a shift from the damning assessment made by a major bilateral agency: “the benefits of gender mainstreaming and impacts on gender equality are at best embryonic and at worst still to become visible“
Thanks to Shotgun Shack for comments and to Nandini Oomman for pointing out my error regarding the date of International Women’s Day.