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Female managers on the rise in the Netherlands

  • Nearly half of all Dutch companies are taking on more female managers, although the Netherlands is still towards the bottom of the ranking of countries with women in  very top management positions.
  • Women themselves can do a lot to improve their position.

Amsterdam, 15 March 2016 – Nearly half of all Dutch companies are taking on more female managers, according to a survey carried out by recruitment and selection specialist Michael Page. And yet the Netherlands is still near the bottom of the ranking of countries with women in  very top management positions. Admittedly, this is partly to do with the possibilities and facilities that our society offers working parents, but it also has a lot to do with the ambition and determination of women themselves, surmises Mischa Voogt, Managing Director of Michael Page Nederland.

The number of female managers has increased sharply in the past few years. Almost half of the companies in the Michael Page survey say they now have more women working in management positions than five years ago. According to the Central Bureau for Statistics (CBS), women currently represent just over a quarter of the management layer in the Netherlands. However this does not alter the fact that the Netherlands scores low in the international ranking with regards to women in top positions. The growth is mainly in middle management. In senior management, women are still under-represented. The percentage is around 11%, whereas the European average is approximately 23%.

No female quota in the Netherlands

Meanwhile neighbouring countries have passed laws to break through this glass ceiling.For example in Belgium, by 2017 management boards of major listed companies must be composed at least one third of women. In Germany, companies must appoint women to at least 30% of top positions, starting this year. The Netherlands have so far chosen not to impose a quota. Rightly or wrongly? “Personally I'm not much in favour of imposing things,” says Voogt. “A female quota strikes me as a last resort, although I can imagine it works as a catalyst. But then I think once it has had its effect, it should be phased out. We have to be careful not to get into a situation in which women are taken on simply because they're women rather than because they're good.”

What do women want?

Of course, the small percentage of women in top positions has to do with opportunities and possibilities, but women could gain a lot for themselves by adopting the right attitude, in Voogt's opinion. “To express an opinion about this is to enter a minefield, but in day-to-day practice I see a basic difference between men and women when it comes to drive. When I ask a room full of male candidates who's ready for a next step in his career, every hand goes up. When I ask a room full of women the same question, hardly anyone raises a hand. I think women would do well to adopt some of men's bravado.”

Voogt also seeks to qualify the perception that a full time job is difficult to combine with children, based on her own experience. As a mother of two children, working full time, and with a partner who also works full time, she is proof that it is indeed possible. “As long as you make sure you have structure and clarity, working full time need not be a problem. Childcare isn't cheap, but if you have a good job, you also have the means with which to arrange it well. My children certainly want for nothing. Women should also realise that if they temporarily stop working or work less, they are opting for long-term loss of income, and that it is often difficult to return to working at the same level. That said, there are of course steps we can take as a society to promote equality.”

Equal roles, equal leave

In Scandinavian countries such as Norway and Sweden, men are entitled to the same number of months parental leave as women, childcare is cheaper and the school system is better attuned to working hours than in the Netherlands. According to Voogt these are conditions for creating a level playing field between men and women. “One problem in the Dutch labour market is that it is discretional for many employers to make a choice that isn't discriminatory. For example if you have the choice between a newly married woman and a newly married man, it is more likely that the woman will take maternity leave in the foreseeable future. Sure, the law says we can't take that into account, but the facts are there. If we made leave equal, then this would no longer be a consideration. Childcare and our school system should also be able to better support full-time working parents: childcare is very expensive in the Netherlands, and if school hours were adapted to working hours, it would make it a lot easier for many women to aim for those top positions.”

Fewer men

The number of managers also rose considerably less in the same period. Only 10% of the Dutch companies surveyed said they had more male managers now than before. This is consistent with the findings of the CBS, which even saw a slight decrease in the number of male managers. Here too the shift is mainly in middle management, not in the top positions.