Blog Marlous Marsman (Director Michael Page)

We lose many potential female leaders because young mothers decide to work part-time. How do we ensure that more women advance to the top of the corporate ladder?

According to my daughters (7 and 5), you can become anything when you grow up. Well, almost anything. “Boys cannot become princesses,” the eldest remarked rightly. It would indeed be great if that was the only obstacle. But before we reach that point, there are a number of things that have to happen.

For instance, the likelihood that a woman reaches the top of the corporate ladder in the Netherlands is relatively small. Where it concerns the number of women in management positions, we rank no 96 out of the 149 countries on the list of the annual Gender Gap Index.

Popular talk shows

If the Dutch football team would have that position in the world ranking, our country would now be in a deep crisis. We would have profound analyses in all sorts of popular talk shows about “how did this state of affairs come about”.

Let's therefore ask ourselves the same question here. Is it, for example, due to the education of women in the Netherlands? No, that's not it. At present, our universities have more female students than male students. In this regard, the Netherlands is the best performing country in the world.

Female leadership qualities

Nevertheless, the executive boards of the top Dutch companies consist for only 6.2 percent of women. How is this possible? We lose many potential female leaders because they give priority to their family at a crucial time in their careers. Now there is nothing wrong with working part-time, but you will not make it to the top that way. Moreover, women miss out on many informal network events that often take place after office hours.

Social pressure

As a mother of two children, I understand the dilemma all too well. I am also familiar with the social pressure that still lies on mothers who work full-time. Although, I see more and more fathers at the school yard to pick up their children, women are still in the majority. The question is how can we change this. First, women must clearly voice their ambitions. Furthermore, we must learn not to think in terms of “men” and "women”; instead, we must only look at talent. Recruitment consultants and other HR service providers can play an important role in this.

Copy of themselves

Just like everyone else, male managers unconsciously have the tendency to hire a copy of themselves. This is why I always emphasise the advantages of a good female candidate for a management position. It is important that we continue to do that. In order to attract more female talent, we need female role models at the highest level.

But that is not enough. Companies and society must both be organised in such a way that both parents can combine the care for their family and their career more easily. Flexible ways of working and cheaper day care would help to achieve this. As in Iceland, which has been at the top the Gender Gap Index for years, free day care.

Securing the future

If we want to secure the future of our corporate sector, then we have to take action. Talent is a scarce commodity. We cannot afford to solely recruit our top leaders from among only 50 percent of the working population.

Let us therefore resolve that when our daughters are grown up we will only have on problem: that men cannot become princesses. How will we then tackle this problem? Well, we will deal with that when the time comes.

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