Editorial | The glass ceiling in the boardroom

Every effort must be made to ensure an enabling climate is created so that women can move up the career ladder and take on leadership roles


The female participation rate in the labour force has increased dramatically over the past decade with Malta comparing favourably with its European peers.

However, Census data reveals this positive development has not resulted in a comparable increase in the number of women in senior roles.

Women account for 24% of Malta’s CEOs, senior officials and legislators. This represents a five-point increase since 2011. Despite the improved numbers, the glass ceiling has not been broken yet.

The reality is that most boardrooms are still heavily male dominated.

This situation was glaringly obvious when government sat down with the country’s major importers and supermarkets last month to sign the price stability agreement. Only two women put their signature on the agreement as representatives for their respective companies.

It should not come as a surprise, really. The situation in the political realm is no different despite legislative intervention that contributed to a substantial increase in women MPs in the last election.

Despite having more women MPs, their number in leadership positions is still lacking.

According to parliament’s website, from the 16 Standing Committees only one is chaired by a woman. And in the recent reshuffle of his Cabinet, the Prime Minister retained the same complement of women – two ministers and three parliamentary secretaries. The only change was the appointment of Naomi Cachia as government Whip.

It is evident that despite women gaining greater visibility on the workplace, this progress was not enough to challenge male dominance.

We need to understand why this is happening and take steps to address the barriers that prevent women from advancing up the career ladder. These barriers may be structural in which case intervention can unblock the situation – a structural barrier for women to even join the workforce was the unavailability of affordable childcare, which was solved through universal free childcare.

But the barriers may also be cultural, which would require a different approach that combines legislative interventions with educational processes and incentives.

There is, however, in the Census figures a silver lining. Female employers increased from 15% in 2011 to 22% a decade later. These are self-employed women who have their own employees.

A seven-point increase is encouraging because it takes greater effort to make the leap into self-employment.

The reasons why more women opted for self-employment – which is a positive development – should be explored since the answers may provide more insight as to what should happen within the private and public sectors to ensure the boardrooms become more representative of the sexes.

It is in society’s interest that women are able to reach their full potential, including in managerial and top posts. But there is also a business case to be made.

No business or public entity can afford to lose talent or utilise it at below par simply because the individual happens to be a woman. It makes no economic and financial sense.

Every effort must be made to ensure an enabling climate is created so that women can move up the career ladder and take on leadership roles.

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