What glass ceiling?

Entry in the 2011 CIPE Cartoon Contest by Indra Baatarkhuu from Mongolia.

In this fascinating piece about women in boardrooms in emerging markets, The Economist highlights research that suggests many firms in emerging markets do a better job promoting women than their Western rivals.

“In China, 32% of senior managers are female, compared with 23% in America and 19% in Britain. In India, 11% of chief executives of large companies are female, compared with 3% of Fortune 500 bosses in America and 3% of FTSE 100 bosses in Britain.”

The article mentions some common barriers to women’s growth in the workplace, such as time constraints due to family obligations, harassment during long commutes to work, and women’s lack of assertiveness. There are other interesting points:  for example, how can women in Russia be taken seriously in the workplace if the term “businesswoman” is synonymous with prostitute?

The Economist argues that living in emerging markets has its advantages for women. For example, women often have access to cheap labor to help them cook and take care of children. Skills shortages and “brain-drain” also make companies more aware of the need to retain their top talent, resulting in programs to retain women employees.

The article also does an excellent job highlighting some of the programs companies have put in place to encourage women to pursue their careers:

  • Goldman Sachs, India pairs expectant mothers with seasoned working mothers.
  • Wipro, an IT company, arranges child-care.
  • GE, India provides assertiveness training.
  • Ernst & Young offers medical coverage for parents, which frequently become additional responsibilities for women to take care of as they age.

From the outside, it seems that these programs would benefit men as well as women. And perhaps they do, further underlying the fact that progress for women means progress for entire societies.

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