break through the persistent glass ceiling in the boardroom.

June 13, 2018 Simone Groeneveld

advancing women at work.

Organizations around the world increasingly realize the benefits of a diverse and inclusive workforce, especially among its leadership. Studies have shown that companies that are more gender, ethnically and culturally diverse perform better than less diverse counterparts. Remarkably, many are still struggling to foster a more diverse environment in their workplace. In fact, despite evidence of better financial results when they are diverse, many companies struggle to achieve broader representation in their workforces.

In Poland, at first glance, companies here appear to do a good job of working toward gender diversity, according to the Warsaw Business Journal. It reported that Poland ranks fourth among OECD countries when it comes to the percentage of managers who are women, with an average of 40.2% compared with an average of 37.1%. However, with only 15.2% of members who are female, Poland trails the rest of Europe in women’s representation on boards, where that number is 22.6%.

These numbers could spell trouble for an economy that witnessed tremendous growth in recent years. In 2017, the country’s GDP rose 4.6%, the fastest since 2011. Sparked by household consumption, the Polish economy benefited from higher social spending and wages. In addition, increased investments in infrastructure and capital helped the country push the trend into 2018.

As Polish companies look to expand, the glass ceiling that exists at the executive level may slow its ability to grow. Already, the country has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the EU, falling to 5.3% in March of 2017, according to Bloomberg. With emigration pulling some of the country’s top talent to other parts of Europe, Poland could be facing a labor crisis, especially among the ranks of the college educated.

And that may be one reason why the lack of female representation at the executive level may slow the Polish economy. Among younger workers 25-34 years old, women are much more likely to have a college degree than men, according to the OECD (43% to 29%). Despite this, women are not being employed in traditionally male-dominated fields such as engineering (34% are female) and IT (16%). Instead, there are greater numbers in health and social services (81%) and teaching (71%).

If women aren’t offered the opportunities in Poland to advance beyond managerial positions, there is the potential for even greater brain drain out of Poland into the EU and elsewhere. According to the Economist, about 30% of Polish emigrants have higher education, about twice the rate of the general population. As a result, the government is trying to entice the Polish expatriates to return home, where wages have been rising and economic activity remain strong. But if Polish women aren’t offered gender equality at work — the same possibility for career growth and advancement as their male counterparts — they may continue to leave in large numbers.

So how can the Polish economy overcome this challenge? Some indicators show that women are making greater inroads in the workplace. The OECD reports that the gender wage gap at median earnings in Poland is 10%, one of the lowest in this group of nations (the average is 16%). Women are more likely to have permanent employment than men and work in professional occupations. If firms here are able to continue to close the wage gap, there may be more incentive for them to remain at home than to emigrate to other markets.

Still, with such a small percentage of women on the boards of Polish companies, how can the country break through this glass ceiling? There is much evidence that gender diversity at the executive level can lead to better financial performance, so companies should consider some critical steps for encouraging more balanced representation. Consider the following:

Assessment. Take a close look at gender equality in your business. From this, you can develop a road map for reaching goals and for identifying KPIs and milestones.

Development. As you identify the leadership skills you need, create distinct career paths for female employees to move up the corporate ladder.

Education. Training and development are important to all workers, but consider how mentoring and other programs can help women navigate inherent barriers in the workplace. In support of the road map, determine how training can accelerate female workers’ rise in the organization.

Purpose. When employees are engaged and have a clear sense of purpose, they perform significantly better. To cultivate female leadership, consider your corporate mission and value aligns with those of potential women leaders. These leaders should also be given opportunities to shape the existing culture and practices to foster a more inclusive workplace.

Include. Gender diversity at work is not just a women’s issue; be sure to include all genders in the discussion. Find ways to communicate the benefits across the organization to help everyone understand the importance, goals and positive outcomes of your diversity initiatives.

Reward. Engagement can be significantly boosted by recognition and reward. This also goes for male leadership who are fully behind diversity efforts. By incentivizing a change in behavior across the enterprise, the result is greater acceptance and encouragement of female leadership development.

As Poland’s economy continues to expand, it must find ways to promote gender diversity in the workplace and the boardroom. With clear evidence of the benefits, companies should prioritize leadership diversity as an important business initiative in support of their growth.


Simone Groeneveld discusses the advancement of women in leadership roles at the ABSL Annual Conference.

about the author

Simone Groeneveld

Simone Groeneveld is Randstad Sourceright’s senior vice president of Business Development for the EMEA region. With an extensive background in building and managing strategic client relationships and talent solutions at an international level, Simone works closely with our clients to identify key business challenges and define strategies to build and manage sustainable talent models that deliver bottom-line strategic impact. Simone is also passionate about advancing the development of women in the workplace and fostering the next generation of female leaders. In Asia, she had the privilege to sit on the Board of the Directors of the International Professional Women’s Society (IPWS) in China.

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