Women in European countries to date still constitute only eight percent of managerial positions, according to the European Women’s Network.
Speaking at the 17th Global Summit of Women that took place in Berlin last week, Mirrella Visser, a president of the European Women’s Network said she is the first women to be on a company board in The Netherlands.
However, other male members of the board sometimes intimidate her, she said. "Maybe these men do this to me because they do not believe in women making decisions."
According to research revealed at the summit, The Netherlands and the United Kingdom are the two countries that have the highest percentage of women in decision-making positions.
Visser said it remains hard for women to climb the career ladder since unlike other countries, "The Netherlands does not have a legislator that could back women up and to get to the top, you have to be on your own."
"Davos for Women"
The challenges facing women in the business world was one of the core themes of the summit which is also known as the "Davos for Women."
An annual occurrence, the three-day meeting this time drew over 1,000 female government and business leaders -- most of them top corporate executives -- from 95 countries. Participants included Latvian President, Vaira Vike-Freiberga and vice president of Microsoft USA, Gerri Elliot.
Irene Natividad, president of the summit said the meet allows women across borders, disciplines and cultures to learn from each other in their ongoing work towards economic equity.
"Sustainability and growth in our global economy would be unthinkable without women" Natividad said.
She admitted that there weren't enough women in top managerial positions and emphasized the need to change the mind-set of both men and women.
"Many corporate leaders still view the inclusion of women board directors as a matter of political correctness or as a form of affirmative action to address past inequities." She said both views are misguided approaches that merely entrench opposition to diversifying corporate boardrooms.
Women as stakeholders
Experts point out that companies can ill-afford to shut out women from decision-making positions given that women are increasingly turning important stakeholders enabling firms to better compete globally.
"They (women) constitute 50 percent of the world’s workers, run over 40 percent of small businesses and make 80 percent of consumer buying decisions," said Natividad.
The summit threw up a host of ideas to help ease the way for women aspiring to managerial levels and positions of power in the business world.
Some pointed out that corporate power circles still remains a boys' club. Mirrella Visser said that male networking is always the easier way to get there.
She emphasized that "women need to market themselves and create a network with men who are in decision-making (positions) because when there is a position up there, they will recommend them."
Jacqueline Ford, an executive with IBM in the US -- which has more women in managerial positions than any other country -- said more has to be done to change the mindset of societies in accepting women as equal partners in the corporate world as well as creating legislation to help smooth the path.
"Women who are in government decision making should advocate for laws that could help women to reach to the top managerial positions," Ford said.
Germany lags behind in Europe
According to the study published during the summit, German companies tend to have the lowest number of women in managerial positions in Western Europe.
Susan Unger, senior vice president and chief information officer at Daimler Chrysler and one of the few German women executives said one of the main barriers faced by German women is juggling family and work.
"Women have to work and take care of their families, so it is not easy for them to do both efficiently. Companies have to cater for women and help create infrastructure that could help in the know how technology," Unger said.
Unger, who has been working for the carmaker for 35 years, pointed out that Daimler Chrysler has created 350 children’s day care centers for employees, especially women.
"The initiative is to relieve the heavy burden from women," she said, adding that women too had a role to play if they were aiming for the top.
Women must contribute by empowering themselves with well advanced skills and must network with role models and mentors, Unger said. She also urged big companies to recognize women’s capability and strengths when making top appointments.
"It’s a long and tough road, but as Germans we must initiate for change," she said.