The Caribbean Glass Ceiling

The Caribbean Glass Ceiling

Marcia Forbes PhD

Women Less than 5% of CEOs & 50 to 100 years for parity

In its Jan. 2015 report, the International Labour Organization (ILO) announces a gaining momentum of women in business and management across the globe. As I prepared for a lightning read through, my first stop was the ‘Contents’ pages.

The ‘Introduction’ was sobering. Headings such as, “Glass ceiling still intact”, “Still lonely at the top”, “Making corporate culture more inclusive” and “Women in the “pipeline”’ did not make it appear that substantial progress was being made. And, the ILO report emphasizes this point.

Under “Still lonely at the top”, and citing from the 2010 World Economic Forum’s Gender Corporate Gap, the ILO report highlights that on average, women account for less than 5 per cent of CEOs in the largest companies in OECD countries.

Whether in the 34 OECD countries or outside of that grouping, in highly populated countries like China and India, or in places like South Africa and Mexico, the situation for women at the top in companies is still ‘lonely’ as the percentages remain pretty fixed at 5 percent or less.

A sobering remark in this report is that “many commentators…estimate that it will take 50 to 100 years, or even more, at this rate to achieve parity at the top.

This is within the context of, as highlighted by the report:

  • Women holding 40 percent of the jobs worldwide;
  • Women running a third of all businesses;
  • Women surpassing men with degrees at the bachelor’s and the master’s levels

Caribbean among Top 20 Countries but…

Jamaica at 59.3 percent, leads the world (from a total of over 100 countries) in “Women’s percentage share of all managers”. It was disheartening, though not unexpected that only three (3) countries achieved the ‘distinction’ of breaking the fifty percent ceiling – Colombia (53.1%) and Saint Lucia (52.3%) were the other two.

Importantly, 8 Caribbean countries made it among the top 20, with the percentage of female managers at 41 percent and above. In addition to Jamaica and St. Lucia, previously mentioned, are Bermuda at 43.5 percent, Barbados at 43.4 percent, Trinidad and Tobago at 43.1, Cayman Islands at 42.4, Belize 41.3 and Aruba at 41 percent.

The ILO makes the point re gaps in data. The effects of this data gap must not be undervalued. For example, data from St. Lucia dates as far back as 2004, while for Jamaica it was from 2008. To what extent would the global recession of 2008/2009 impact the percentages of female managers in these and other Caribbean countries?

Initiatives to Advance Women in Business and Management

The ‘Contents’ table highlighted “Company initiatives”, “Awarding good practice”, “Women organizing at national level” “Women organizing at regional and international level” and “Structures for women and gender equality in business membership organizations”, among others. In a follow-up article I will focus on these initiatives. For now, let me share some responses from Jamaican women to Blogger ( Emma Lewis’ invitation for them to share in one sentence their Vision for 2015.

Jamaican Women & Vision for 2015

Emma posted responses from 19 women drawn from a wide cross-section of disciplines. This mix of young, middle aged and more mature (60 years and older) women included development specialists, business owners, academics/researchers, NGOs and employees of international organizations. It was interesting to see the marked similarities in responses from these women from so many different walks of life.

Many highlighted the need for women to be more actively involved in charting their own progress. This is the primary objective of Jamaica’s 51% Coalition: Women in Partnership for Development and Empowerment, a lobby group pushing for the inclusion of more women on Government-appointed Boards and Commissions.

Here are some of the responses to Emma’s question:-

“In 2015, I would like to see Jamaican women realize their true potential and move aggressively to take their rightful places in spaces of power….”

“My hope is that women, across race, class, age, politics, religion, social status, NGOs, women in business can come together and affirm that it is our collective journey that will bring success – removing gender inequality and all forms of discrimination against women, building consciousness among women to deal with violence against women and girls….”

“Women do so much & yet they remain a largely untapped source of transformation: my wish is that we invest more in ourselves, step up as leaders in our own right & support each other to become change makers.”

“…the time has come to hoist our voices front and center…to rescue this place; – but to do so, we must give non-competitive representational recognition to each other’s struggle so we can lift humanity collectively. It is the only choice remaining.”

“I want to see a general change in the attitudes of young women. I want our girls to understand their rights as a woman and be empowered enough to demand it.”

My own response to Emma was this, “I’d like to see greater awareness among women and girls of the real situation facing females in general in Jamaica and not swallow the rhetoric that ‘women are taking over based on the comparatively few in top positions, and along with this awakening, the recognition that the tide is turning in women’s favour to get our voices heard. We therefore should not miss the opportunity to speak up.”

Caribbean Females as Percentage of Top Managers

While Jamaica and St. Lucia may be world leaders in the “percentage share of all managers”, their performance at the top leaves a lot to be desired.

As a “Percentage of Firms with a Female Top Manager”, the Bahamas leads the Caribbean at 33.2 percent. Jamaica is a paltry 24.1 percent, behind Barbados at 25.4 percent. St. Lucia is 23.7 percent, while Trinidad and Tobago lingers at 20.8 percent. Women continue to be stuck in middle management positions while top management continues to be the domain of males.

Let’s Go!

The Caribbean region needs ‘all hands on deck’ at all levels, especially since, as the ILO report notes, “an increasing number of studies illustrate the links between women’s presence in top management and boards, and company results.”

These companies do better on many of the markers of success such as profits and shareholder benefits. The responses of Jamaican women re their Vision for 2015 make clear that they know there is much more work to be done. Many are ready, willing and able. Let’s Go!

January 19, 2015