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Career gains at risk for women in Europe, US, Mercer warns

  • 14 December 2015
  • United Kingdom, London

The growth of women in the broad professional ranks of Europe’s leading employers is likely to stall in the years ahead, despite advances they have made in top executive roles, according to a preliminary report released today by the consulting group Mercer.

In 10 years, women who work in professional and more senior positions will make up 37% of those ranks—exactly the same proportion as in 2015, according to preliminary results in When Women Thrive, Mercer's second annual report on the global outlook for participation, retention, and promotion of women in the workforce.

By comparison, the share of women in executive ranks in Europe will rise from 21% this year to 33% in 2025, the report projects, if organizations can maintain the momentum observed in the current year. Part of the reason for the faster trajectory is the corporate focus on hiring women at senior levels (see Figure 1).

“Quotas in Europe have had a big impact in boosting female representation in senior roles,” said Julia Howes, Principal in Mercer’s Workforce Analytics practice. “But there’s a disturbing revolving door. While firms are focused on recruiting women at the top, it doesn’t appear they’re keeping them…and that could threaten the progress they’ve made, unless they act now.” (See Figure 1)

As the European workforce ages, it raises the possibility that more women will exit the job market to care for the growing elderly population, the report warns. “Leaders risk failing to develop enough qualified workers in Europe to deliver on economic growth,” says Patricia A. Milligan, Global Leader, When Women Thrive at Mercer.

Figure 1

“This is a wake-up call,” said Ms. Milligan. “Leaders should focus not only on getting women to the C-level, but on making sure their organizations have the pipeline of women to follow and maintain their progress with women’s representation.”

When Women Thrive shows a similar flattening of opportunity for women in the United States and Canada. Currently, 39% of positions at the professional level and above are held by women, a share that will rise by merely 1 percentage point by 2025, Mercer projects, unless organizations act to reduce differences between women and men in rates of hire, promotion, and retention.

By comparison, the share of executive level jobs held by women in North America will rise from 22% this year to 36% in 2025, Mercer projects. Part of the reason for the faster trajectory is greater equity between men and women in promotions to the executive rank, Mercer notes.

“At first glance, it looks like Europe and the US are making great progress,” says Brian Levine, Innovation Leader, Global Workforce Analytics at Mercer. “But there’s a weak link: many companies aren’t focused on ensuring there’s a pipeline of women, nor are they putting into place the supporting practices and cultural environment critical to success.”

Executive involvement, financial and wellness education for women
Among the key drivers of a successful diversity program, based on Mercer’s analytics, are engaged, executive leadership focused on diversity and educational programs tailored to women’s needs. The research finds that only 59% of leaders and 37% of men in European organizations are reported to be actively involved in diversity and inclusion activities (see  figure 2).

On the education front, only 7% of European organizations offer financial wellness tailored to women and 17% offer gender-specific health education, despite the fact that such programs help companies to recruit and retain women.

Figure 2

“If every CEO made diversity a top priority, not only would they positively impact their growth trajectory, but they would benefit their economies, communities, and individual families as a result,” says Ms. Milligan. “There’s no excuse anymore. Just as we’ve seen data and smart analytics drive improved outcomes on the health and investing fronts, so, too, can we drive progress on diversity. We’re doing it right now.”

The preliminary report—in advance of the release of the full global report in January—marks the one-year anniversary of the initial, 2014 When Women Thrive Report. The new report represents a tripling of participating organizations—nearly 600 corporations and organizations around the world, employing 3.2 million people, including 1.3 million women (see Figure 3). The preliminary report was previewed in Brussels with diversity leaders and speakers from Ericsson, Lufthansa Group, Shell, and UBS.

Figure 3.

To download the report, go here. To listen to the webcast with leaders from Mercer, UBS and Johnson & Johnson, go here.

For more, visit WhenWomenThrive.

Notes for Editor

About Mercer
Mercer is a global consulting leader in talent, health, retirement and investments. Mercer helps clients around the world advance the health, wealth and careers of their most vital asset – their people. Mercer’s more than 20,000 employees are based in 43 countries and the firm operates in over 140 countries.  Mercer is a wholly owned subsidiary of Marsh & McLennan Companies (NYSE: MMC), a global professional services firm offering clients advice and solutions in the areas of risk, strategy and people. With annual revenue of $13 billion and 57,000 colleagues worldwide, Marsh & McLennan Companies is also the parent company of Marsh, a leader in insurance broking and risk management; Guy Carpenter, a leader in providing risk and reinsurance intermediary services; and Oliver Wyman, a leader in management consulting. For more information, visit www.mercer.com. Follow Mercer on Twitter @Mercer. In the UK, Mercer Limited is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority.

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