It’s that time of year again. At magazines and newspapers, writers are preparing the annual review sections, and the FT special about Women at the Top is out. It’s always one of the unmistakable signs that the year is coming to a close. And it didn’t leave me with a good feeling.

As a European, I was a bit disappointed to browse through the selection of the “Top 50 Women in World Business”. Not criticizing the panel’s choice of 50 excellent leaders, I am skeptical about the geographical dispersion of their choice and what it tells me about the future of women in executive levels in my part of the world. Nineteen of the top 50 women are from the US. Asia-Pacific is home to 16 others, and only 12 women are from Europe (including Turkey). Compared to Africa, however, Europe doesn’t score too badly.

Now, why am I worried? Mainly because of the demographic changes and challenges that Europe faces and that don’t seem to translate into staffing decisions in corporate Europe. Gender diversity is being pushed on the political agenda, with national quotas, EU-directives on provisions for early childcare, and the extension of working life for women in heated debate. But the understanding that gender equality is not just morally desirable but strategically necessary in order to attain and retain talent in a shrinking workforce has not transcended into visible changes just yet.

The UK-based FTSE reports (conducted by Cranfield School of Management) show levels of around 12% women representation in the boardroom, without much significant change in the last three years (and the 2010 version, to be released shortly, will likely not reveal any surprises, either). Arguably, British companies have more pressing issues to worry about these days – a valid argument or a welcome excuse, hard to say. However, even where the economy is booming, gender diversity is increasing at a snail’s pace. In Europe, any woman entering the management board is still a celebrated rarity.

I wonder how much resilience, assertiveness and patience is needed until equality of men and women, one of our fundamental values in Western society and a basic human right, is achieved in the places where the fate of thousands is decided. I wonder what the world will look like if this comes true, and I hope that I will be able to witness this change.

Is there hope for gender diversity within our organizations?

~Gina Eckert

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