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Business

Breaking through the Glass Ceiling

The study "Woman and Power" published at a conference in Berlin takes a look at the obstacles in women's careers, and at what motivates women to push their way through these barriers to the top.

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Same uniform but not same status -women are still marginalised in leading positions

The most adamant feminist at the conference "World Women Work" in Berlin this week was a man. Speaking at the conference, Luxemberg’s prime minister Jean-Claude Juncker said his dedication to the improvement of gender equity in the working world was purely out of personal interest. The equalization of women in work was not just "their problem but ours too".

"Our" problem is not an opinion generally shared by the (male) working world. The status of women in business and economy still lags behind all postulates of worldwide gender equality, and women still only hold a marginal share of available top jobs, despite excellent education and sufficient prerequisites.

Overcoming the artificial barrier

In 2002, 30 per cent of managers in the EU's 15 member states were female. In 1992, 29,5 per cent were female - in the EU's then 11 member states.

Since its genesis in the 70s, the term "glass ceiling" has come to symbolise the invisible barriers blocking women from rising to the top of the corporate pile.

Whether at work or in politics, this artificial barrier – an obstacle fashioned from attitudinal and organisational prejudices – remains in effect despite decades of social development and attempts at advancement in gender equity.

According to Linda Wirth of the ILO Bureau for Gender Equality "breaking through the 'glass ceiling' still appears elusive for all but a select few." Today, 13 per cent of women parliamentarians worldwide are female, 1 per cent of trade union heads are women, and only 8 countries in the world have a female head of state.

Women only hold a marginal share of available leading positions - despite current manager shortages infast-growing markets.

Inthe computer technology market, the number of women managers is still low. France is one of the leading countries in this field – with a percentage of 9,1 per cent, a recent survey by the International Data Corporation says. In Austria, however, a mere 4,1 per cent have taken over leading roles in this future market.

According to economics professor Sonja Bischoff , women’s career paths are closely linked to specific work fields. Whereas in areas such as marketing 21 per cent of the managers are female, only 2 per cent in future markets such as computer technology are women.

The outlook for women in politics is better: today, one third of all Bundestag representatives are female – in the government even 36,8 per cent.

However, this does not reflect a general improvement of women in work, despite attempts by companies worldwide to increase the number of working women in top levels.

Heterogenic management

According to Accenture general manager Susanne Klöß, "heterogenic management teams and different styles of company management are best up to economic reality".

As companies expand globally and networking has become a company credo, so has the role of the woman improved – as mediator, team player and holder of so-called soft skills. Since the 90s various international companies have realised women’s assets and have increased the number of women in leading positions.

The methods vary: DaimerChrysler has introduced a so-called "soft" women quota whereas Shell has committed itself to raise the number of women in managing positions to 20 per cent. Other companies such as Lufthansa, Deutsche Bank, Telekom, Bosch and Procter & Gamble have, in the past years, built up an extensive combined mentoring programme for women.

However, while women gradually increase their share of managerial work and positions, one thing has remained clear: the rate of change has been slow and the pace of progress uneven .

No power, please

Compared to the number of women with university degrees, the number of women in leading positions is still comparatively low. From 1992 to 1999 the number of female graduates in Germany increased by more than a third - last year more young women graduated from university than men. But only 10 per cent of the managers in the country's leading companies are women.

So how have those women who have made it to the top achieved their career goals? A survey by Accenture, presented at the "World Women Work" conference in Berlin asked 83 German women in leading positions in politics, economics and science.

The results showed striving for a top job is not a necessarily a question of power: personal standards played a greater role than authoritarian ruling methods. - and that women in leading positions had made it with what are thought to be typical male qualities: the ability to assert oneself, as well as strategic capabilities – and not, as generally thought through the usage of "soft", typically female, skills.

Today, women in top positions are not the single, power-driven women they were once thought to be. 60 per cent of today’s female managers have children and are aged 41 to 50 per cent.

98 of male mangers have children too. But most men do not have to cope with both.

A woman’s work is never done

As family politics are set to play a large role in the oncoming elections, temporary work models, child care offers and mentoring are proving essential for women in top jobs. In France, an average 1,7 children are born – and a third of the country’s managers are women.

According to Accenture, the right infrastruture can avoid the decision between child or career and is essential to combining both.

Germany’s family minister Christine Bergmann has promised to improve women’s positions in work. A daunting task for a country where Kindergarden and school children finish their working day at lunchtime.

But as Margaret Thatcher cared to say: "a woman’s work is never done".

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