Women’s promotion to top posts: What counts in the private sector?

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What you need to know:

  • Limiting factors include absence of women-friendly recruitment policies

By Esther Ishengoma and Mesia Ilomo

Women in top management enhance decision-making processes, establish a climate favouring innovation, and promote good social relations. Such important roles for the success of companies are widely acknowledged. Many nations (including Tanzania) are continuing to take affirmative actions to reduce gender gaps. Despite the efforts, World Economic Forum (2019) reports that globally women lead only 18.2 percent of companies.

The 2021 Gender Diversity Index Report shows that only 7 percent of companies in Europe are led by women. The analysis based on a 2015 World Bank Survey of 424 private companies in Tanzania reveals that only 10 percent of the companies were led by women. While there are few women in the top management of listed or unlisted companies around the globe, recent reports reveal a number of women quitting their top managerial positions.

McKinsey & Company’s Women in the Work Place 2022 Report reveals that in America, 10.5 percent of women in senior management level and above left their companies in 2021. This is alarming as we aspire to reduce or close gender gap in top management. We therefore need to continue exploring factors promoting or inhibiting the promotion of women to and quitting from top managerial positions for the enhancement of policies geared towards the realization of sustainable development goal (SDG) 5 on gender equality and women’s empowerment by 2030, the United Nations’ bid to accelerate gender equality by 2026, and the Tanzania’s commitment to achieving gender equality on economic justice and rights.

Reports addressing issues pertaining to women in top managerial positions have confirmed the continued presence of glass ceiling, sticky floor and associated factors. The factors limiting women to climb the ladder to top managerial positions include fewer women than men recruited for lower and middle/senior level management position, which inevitably reduces their chances of ascending to top managerial positions.

Other limiting factors include the absence of women-friendly recruitment policies; and lower wages for women executives than those of men, which discourages women from applying for top managerial positions. The domination of men in the recruitment/promotion decision-making organs, which is positively associated with limited participation of women on boards or/and in ownership of companies, is also one of the factors. The majority of men employers fail to decode women potential candidates’ signals on their interests in top managerial positions and their high-performance qualities and skills.

Also, there is limited interactions between women potential candidates and employers of whom the majority are men. Indeed, the analysis based on the 2015 World Bank Survey of the private sector in Tanzania reveals that more companies (32 percent) with the involvement of women in ownership (hence the possibility of having women employers or board members) were led by women than companies without women participation in ownership (2 percent).

Women also tend to have low preferences and assertiveness for top managerial positions when the positions’ responsibilities are too demanding and less compatible with family responsibilities as these responsibilities are mainly executed by women, and the work environment lack flexibility.

This situation is aggravated by the society/culture that normatively constructs men as breadwinners and leaders whereas women as family carers and supporters. As a result, men and some women employers tend to favour the recruitment of men for top managerial positions. In medium and large companies, the position of CEO is likely to be too demanding and inflexible. According to the analysis on the 2015 World Bank Survey of private sector in Tanzania, women led only 4 percent of the of medium and large companies. Likewise, because of family responsibilities and limited supports, women tend to be less mobile. Consequently, their leadership in companies (such as exporters) requiring frequent long distance travels limited. The analysis shows that only 2 percent of companies engaged in export were led by women, which is 10 percent lower than none exporting companies.

Zooming in to the sectors, the analysis indicates that more companies engaged in textiles and restaurants (24 percent) were led by women than those in manufacturing, construction and transport (5 percent). This could be associated with experience and educational background that are required for the positions. It is possible that the latter category of companies prefer science related education such as mechanical engineering background as one of the qualifications for a top manager. This field of education has more men graduates than women. Efforts geared towards the improvement of the work environment for balancing work – family duties and flexible work environment are required to improve the number of women in top managerial positions as well as holding them and facilitating their ascending to top/CEO position.

The encouragement and facilitation of women participation in ownership of small to large companies, growth of companies with women shareholders, and more representation of women in corporate boards are required for the promotion of women to top managerial positions. Men should also acknowledge the presence of gender-related constraints facing women and commit to address them.

The cerebration of this year’s International Women Day with the theme “DigitALL: Innovation and Technology for Gender Equality” may, among others, need to strategise on supporting and digitalising women in top management surveys in developing countries to deepen our understanding on the dynamics of women in corporate leadership.

This may contribute to better strategies towards gender equality and inclusion as well as increase awareness on gender in corporate management.

Prof Esther Ishengoma and Dr Mesia Ilomo teach at the University of Dar es Salaam Business School