Glass Ceiling in the Development Sector
The ‘glass ceiling’ is a term that refers to the innate or subtle inequality in a workplace as it experienced by a woman. It describes the concealed barriers that do not allow the success of women beyond a particular position of an organization or workplace.
According to Forbes 2018, although a greater percentage of women graduate every year with higher grades, there are still paid less and hold fewer executive positions. There is an increasing belief on the idea that ‘pay equity should not be based solely on a job title’ and there have been instances when a male executive was paid less than his female colleague and vice versa. With this view of equity, the compensation and promotion opportunities should be equal too. But that is not usually the case, especially when the opportunities involve the top positions of a company.
Although, in the last two decades, the participation of women (as a proportion) as significantly increased because of women’s movement, policies formulated by governments and equal opportunity initiatives by the corporates. Yet, according to Meyerson & Fletcher (2000), women at the highest level of business are still rare- comprising of only 15% of senior managers in the Fortune 500 companies.
This trend has also been observed in the development sector since the early 2000s. The ‘indigenisation’ of international NGOs (INGOs), was the initiative to start including people from the global south in the leadership. According to Tara Rao in IDR, although the initiative started in the right direction and helped to widen the representation by including men from the global south, it also reinforced the ground reality and perpetuated the gender disparity which their leadership roles were actually meant to change. So, although the staff and groundworkers were largely females, but the highest rung in many of the organizations was still dominated by men.
Even though a glass ceiling is present in the subtlest ways in the workplace environment, people have been able to research about its causes and effects and even magnitude. Women, working in the development sector, have expressed their own experiences and the hardships that they have faced to get where they are now, in interviews, which has extensively helped in its research.
According to Ms. Barbara Stocking (Executive Director at Oxfam), the biggest barrier to women advancing into these (high) positions is the internal processes and the system. Amongst the other barriers that women face, ‘an uneven playing field is among the top challenges.’ Even with the same set of skills, a woman has to be exceptionally brilliant to get to the top, as compared to their male colleagues. ‘Women professionals in the development sector mirror the challenges faced by women working in male-dominated fields.
Apart from the still ongoing researches about situation of women in the development sector of South Asia, Forbes has come up with reasons that explain why the situation is what it is. Women are not able to negotiate as well for themselves as they do for others. Without knowing the worth of their skills and talents, women are generally on the backfoot in a situation where they have to negotiate for something like a better compensation package or promotion. They are unable to assess the impact of their leadership and executive contributions on the overall working of the company; thus, avoiding their own voices from being heard due to the prevalent workplace culture.
In the present environment of deep-seated, deep conservatism- a new courage and imagination is urgently required to bring about the change of actual ‘wider representation’ in all levels of a company. The change can start with the organizations whose aim is to represent the interests of civil society. They can work on changing the composition of boards and their agendas, the objectives of organizational developments and the level of funding offered by grant-makers towards making strategic investments in gender- responsive organizational building. Organizations should propel themselves into facing and understanding the new reality and engage in measures to help the overall situation instead of cowering away. They should challenge the prevailing system to actively seek women leaders. The need of such policies are becoming more and more urgent, and it is rightly said “In a world where talent is distributed equally among women and men, an economy that does not fully tap into the leadership skills offered by women is necessarily inefficient,” by The Chicago Booth Professor Marianne Bertrand.