The Eurocadres blog

Challenges and Achievements: Women and the Gender Gap in Access to Managerial Positions in Europe


The struggle for gender equality in the workplace has been a hot topic for decades. Despite significant progress in many areas, the gender gap persists in a number of sectors, one of the most prominent being women's access to management positions.

The challenges faced by women in their pursuit of leadership roles in the corporate world, as well as the achievements made thanks to the implementation of the European Directive on Gender Equality on Boards of Directors, are still to be overcome despite recent legislative action.

The challenges in accessing management positions remains one of the main obstacles to women's progress in the workplace, having knock-on effects leading to a globally income divide of approximately 20% between women and men in similar jobs, according to data from the International Labour Organisation (ILO). A lack of representation in leadership positions is a major challenge, with women continually under-represented on corporate boards and in executive positions, limiting their opportunities for career advancement and their ability to influence decision-making. The impact that has on long-term matters of critical importance such as pensions and care are exacerbated for multiple generations in Europe and globally.

Entrenched gender stereotypes in society continue to influence perceptions of women's leadership capabilities. Women are often expected to adhere to certain roles and behaviours traditionally associated with femininity, which can make it difficult for them to rise to leadership positions. Difficulties in reconciling work and family life remain a challenge for many women, especially those aspiring to leadership roles. The lack of paid parental leave Policies, flexible working options and a societal care burden can make it difficult for women to advance their careers without sacrificing their personal lives.

Action taken through the European Directive on Gender Equality on Boards of Directors:

The European Directive on Gender Equality on Boards of Directors, adopted in 2012, has been a significant step towards promoting gender equality in business.This directive set binding targets for increasing the representation of women on the boards of listed companies in EU Member States. Despite a decade of being blocked in the European Council, the directive was (finally) cleared in European law in 2022. However, the impact of this text has already been seen widely in company culture.

The results of the implementation of this directive have been encouraging. According to a European Commission report, between 2010 and 2018, the proportion of women on the boards of listed companies in the EU increased significantly. In 2010, women held approximately 12% of board seats, while in 2018 this figure had risen to 28%. In addition, several EU countries have exceeded the targets set by the directive. For example, in countries such as Sweden and Finland, more than 40% of board members are women. These achievements are a testament to the positive impact that government policies can have in promoting gender equality in business.

Although significant challenges remain on the road to gender equality in board positions, the European Directive on Gender Equality on Boards has proven to be an effective instrument to promote gender diversity in companies. However, it is important to continue working to address gender stereotypes, improve work-life balance policies and create a more inclusive and equitable corporate culture. In doing so, we can ensure that women have the same opportunities for professional success as their male colleagues and thus contribute to a fairer and more prosperous future for all.

resized 2021-01 Paula Ruiz Torres - photo

The author

Paula Ruíz Torres
Vice-President of Eurocadres