Gro Harlem Brundtland: The Glass Ceiling: Women of Power and Influence

on Wednesday, 23 May 2012. Posted in Articles on Leadership / Gender

Gro Harlem Brundtland: The Glass Ceiling: Women of Power and Influence
Gro Harlem Brundtland: The Glass Ceiling: Women of Power and Influence
The Glass Ceiling: Women of Power and Influence
Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland, Director-General, World Health Organization

I am happy to be here today.

I take it that addressing the limitations in women’s lives and human rights embodied in the concept of the so-called glass ceiling, really applies to all women facing barriers that are not acknowledged, observed and systematically addressed to promote necessary change.

In Beijing, five years ago, I expressed the truth of the matter: there isn’t a single country or institution in the world where men and women enjoy equal opportunities.

Even though we had been struggling for decades to achieve fundamental change, we still had to admit there is a long way to go. Even in ILO, or in WHO, Juan and I have a challenge. All of us, on this panel and in the audience, have jobs to do, before we can say we are there.

Five years ago, I said that changes must take place in the board rooms as well as in the shantytowns. I said they must take place from the suburbia of Europe and North America to the poor farmlands in Africa and everywhere in between. Today, that energy for change is still needed.

So, as a new century stretches before us, our main priority should be to eradicate the poverty and discrimination faced by women found in many parts of the globe. The 20th century has shown they are crippling, debilitating and choice-limiting forces. Furthermore, we have learned that, although poverty and discrimination burden the lives of both women and men, there is little doubt that, by most measures and in most places, women are more often and more seriously affected.

What is the evidence? Poverty has a woman’s face. More than 70% of the poorest 1.3 billion people of the world are women. Gender-based discrimination, combined with poverty, prevents women from leaving situations of abuse and exploitation. They interact to allow a small power elite - be they extreme traditionalist male governments or village elders and traditional healers - to maintain damaging and discriminatory practices under the guise of cultural or religious tradition. Poverty leads to ill health, which puts additional strain on already over-stretched households. Women suffer - much more than they should. That is why we must strive for real change.

And, finally, to a personal reflection - from one who has been privileged, and in the end has not been stopped by a glass ceiling, I recall my own experience, in the midst of personal and political struggle, as a forty-one year-old first woman Prime Minister. What helped me cope with attitudes of hostility and discrimination, even in my own, reasonably enlightened society? It was the conviction that change could be achieved.

As I encountered personal, sexist attacks by political opponents, I said to myself "this is a first. If you prevail, the next woman to be leader in Norway will not need to face the same forces of discrimination". It was a consolation to know: stay put, keep going, you are breaking ground for the future of women, and for a better society.

I believe I am not alone in this type of reflection. I am sure others on the panel have faced similar situations in their lives, within the corporate, media, or labour movement world.

I believe that the conditions for change are stimulated through example and inspiration. It leads to a wider recognition of the real potential that results from women being able to access and use power to improve societies and the human condition.

Thank you.

Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland took office as Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) on 21 July 1998. Dr Brundtland was nominated by WHO's Executive Board on 27 January and elected to the post on 13 May by the Member States of WHO. Her term of office is five years.

A medical doctor and Master of Public Health (MPH), Gro Harlem Brundtland spent 10 years as a physician and scientist in the Norwegian public health system. For more than 20 years she was in public office, 10 of them as Prime Minister of Norway. In the 1980s she gained international recognition, championing the principle of sustainable development as the chair of the World Commission of Environment and Development (the Brundtland Commission).

This was an International Women's Day Speech by Dr Brundtland- "The Glass Ceiling: Women of Power and Influence"   International Labor Organisation, Geneva 8 March 2001


Speech by JUAN SOMAVIA, DIRECTOR-GENERAL of the International Labor Organisation, Geneva

Director-General's introduction to the field broadcast of the discussion on "The Glass Ceiling: Women of Power and Influence" for International Women's Day 8 March 2001

Today we pay tribute to women. We honor the pioneers, who in the early 1900s, dared to demand the right to vote, to decent working conditions and maternity protection. We honor those who created International Women's Day in 1910 to galvanize support for women's rights and suffrage movements. And we honor the women and men who today carry on the struggle for gender equality.

The International Labour Organization is committed to this cause. Gender equality is a goal and a catalyst to achieve our core vision: decent work for women and men in conditions of freedom, equity, security and dignity.

Since 1919, we have tried to improve the situation for women at work. While far from perfect, we have influenced the labor legislation in almost every country, fueled women's entrepreneurship and sparked social security and protection systems.

A key part of our work is what we do at the local level. Our regional presence keeps us informed and aware of different realities.

The 8th March is a moment to celebrate achievements worldwide and take stock of how far we still need to go. Today we chose to focus on the "glass ceiling", as it is one of the critical problems crying out for a major breakthrough.

By "glass ceiling" we mean the invisible artificial barriers that block women from senior executive jobs. There is also the problem of the "sticky floor". This term describes the forces that keep women stuck at the bottom of the economic pyramid.

Our research and analysis suggest that discrimination is greatest where the most power is exercised. The higher one goes, the larger the gender gap:

  • Women hold one to three per cent of top executive jobs in the largest corporations worldwide. For women who also experience race discrimination, the percentage is even less.
  • Only eight countries have a woman head of state; 21 countries have a deputy head;
  • Only 13.4 per cent of the world's Parliamentarians are women;
  • Only one percent of trade union leaders are women, though women are almost 40 per cent of their membership globally.

Data show that women have the qualifications and work experience to take on responsibilities at the highest level. But the challenge is the slow pace in achieving a critical mass of women in top jobs with influence.

The stumbling blocks can often be traced to the way work itself is organized and the formidable challenges women and men face in trying to reconcile work and family commitments - especially with the increased pressures and insecurities in today's global economy.

The result is persistent occupational segregation - men's jobs and women's jobs. It is unjust and inefficient. Even the more successful Nordic countries still have strong degrees of occupational segregation. Compounding the problem, so-called women's jobs are often assigned a lower market value. Even in women-dominated fields, such as in health and education, men usually occupy the "more skilled", "responsible" and better-paid positions.

The pay gap between men and women workers is still cause for concern. This year is the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the ILO Equal Remuneration Convention in 1951. To date, 150 countries have ratified it. Yet pay differentials persist in all countries ranging from 10 to 30 percentage points.

The management job gap and the pay gap are two obvious manifestations of the different ways males and females spend time on work and family matters. Studies show that women, on average, work longer hours than men in nearly every country. And women continue to perform most unpaid work.

So what can be done to speed up women's entry to the highest echelons of decision-making?

First, we must believe that faster progress is possible. In the United States, the number of women in Fortune 500 executive management positions more than doubled in just three years (from 2.4 per cent in 1996 to 5.1 per cent in 1999). And our new book highlights other positive examples in business, government and trade unions.

We must continue to explain how and why gender equality is important for economic growth and the welfare of families. To be effective, organizations and firms will increasingly depend on having a balanced mix of so-called "masculine" and "feminine" attributes at all levels.

Meaningful change requires that we:

  • diversify occupations for women and men;
  • foster greater sharing of family responsibilities;
  • innovate with proven human resource and budget strategies;
  • cultivate and nurture women's entrepreneurial talents.

The lesson is that for companies and organizations to remain competitive, we cannot afford to lose out on women's talent. It's the right thing to do; it's the smart thing to do.

By working together - with governments, employers' organizations, trade unions, the civil society and the UN family - we are determined to help dismantle the glass ceiling, within our own walls and in the global and national labour markets.

My heartfelt appreciation to all who have contributed to the March 8th celebrations, in collaboration with our partner UN agencies, around the globe.

I welcome our panelists and look forward to listening to each of you.

Happy Women's Day!

Source: ILO