Stalemate in Journey of Women to the Top

Amsterdam, 27 July 2012. The talent pipeline that should lead to more women in top positions in major Dutch companies is too limited. There are not enough women in the sub-top to be promoted to the top, according to new research by Dutch daily newspaper the Volkskrant (26-07-2012).

In 2016 companies by law must have at least 30% women in their top management and supervisory or executive boards. But in 2011 the numbers did not increase from the 20% of women at the top in the preceding year.

The research looked at 35 leading Dutch companies. A slight improvement in the metrics in some companies was balanced by losses of women in the top in other companies.

The electronic publishing company Reed Elsevier has the highest perentage of women in the top: almost 50% of management is female. At Unibail-Rodamco almost 4 in 10 women hold management positions. But technical companies like Imtech, the chip machine producer ASML, builders Boskalis, BAM and Heijmans can only find one in 10 women, if that, to fulfill the highest positions in their companies.

In total, 7592 women work in management positions in the 35 companies in the research. Many work in an international post and are not Dutch nationals.

Where to go from here? For one, research looking at gender and leadership in the Netherlands is needed.

The Netherlands signed the Beijing Platform for Action in 1995, a UN declaration to advance the position of women. By signing this Declaration, the Netherlands committed among other things to gathering gender statistics to identify, produce and disseminate statistics that reflect the realities of the lives of women and men, and policy issues relating to gender.

Gender refers to the social attributes and opportunities associated with being male and female and the relationships between women and men and girls and boys, as well as the relations between women and those between men.  These attributes, opportunities and relationships are socially constructed and are learned through socialization processes. They are context/ time-specific and changeable.

We need those statistics now.  In the 6th edition of the World Economic Forum’s  annual Global Gender Gap Report (2011) the Netherlands ranks 27 in the world on economic participation and opportunity for women.

We need to determine why women who are not Dutch nationals have opportunities Dutch women do not have – and what that has to do with gender relations in the Netherlands.  Such a study could make use of 13 gender-diversity measures determined by McKinsey in its 2012 Women Matter survey. These measures range from options for flexible working conditions, to inclusions of gender-diversity indicators in executive’s performance reviews and a systematic requirement that at least one female candidate be in each promotion pool. 

It is getting more and more urgent to address the issue of women and leadership in the Netherlands.

To read more on this issue, go to the 2012 McKinsey report entited Women Matter.

Lin McDevitt-Pugh

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