Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
America’s Competitive SecretWomen Managers$

Judy B. Rosener

Print publication date: 1998

Print ISBN-13: 9780195119145

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195119145.001.0001

Show Summary Details
Page of

PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.oxfordscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2019. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use (for details see www.oxfordscholarship.com/page/privacy-policy). Subscriber: null; date: 18 June 2019

Female Underutilization Worldwide

Female Underutilization Worldwide

(p.171) 10 Female Underutilization Worldwide
America’s Competitive Secret

Judy B. Rosener

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

Having women in the workplace, especially in positions of top management, plays no small part in improving the competitive advantages of companies, even at global levels. In some countries, such as Japan, Britain, and certain Member States of the European Union (EU), the relationship between global competitiveness and the underutilization of women is increasingly becoming evident. Because of the growing need to utilize all available human resources effectively and the need to address rapidly changing demographics, leaders have given more attention to the roles of women. This chapter provides a comparative analysis on the measures taken by the identified countries in addressing underutilization and providing support mechanisms. It also looks into how these countries perceive the issue of female underutilization.

Keywords:   Japan, Britain, European Union, comparative analysis, underutilization, support mechanisms, female underutilization

In 1993 Deloitte & Touche, a large accounting firm, placed a full two-page ad in the Wall Street Journal Most of the space was filled with these words written in large letters: LAWSUITS, TAXES, WOMEN IN THE WORKPLACE, RUNAWAY HEALTH COSTS, TQM, AND GLOBAL COMPETITION. Underneath, in smaller letters, the words and phrases were translated into challenges aimed at executives. One of them read, “You are concerned about how leadership potential is wasted when women aren't given the chance to take on top corporate roles.”1 Although the ad did not explicitly link the various concerns it identified, the implication was clear: women in the workplace are an important factor in making organizations more globally competitive.

In other countries the relationship between the underutilization of women and global competitiveness is also becoming clear. One look at what is happening in Japan, Britain, and the countries of the European Union (EU) tells the story.2 Countries such as Taiwan, China, Singapore, and some Latin American nations are also current or potential competitors of the United States, but I exclude (p.172) them here because of the difficulty of obtaining reliable data.3

Comparative Underutilization Measures

National political and business leaders increasingly suggest that the role of women cannot be ignored given changing demographics and the need to use all human resources effectively. Their words are often more visible than their deeds. Still, efforts are being made, some symbolic and some substantive, to underscore the importance of female underutilization. For example, in December 1992 a conference called Equal to the Task was convened to mark Britain’s presidency of the European Council, a deliberative body of the European Union. The purpose of the conference was to give major EU government and corporate employers an opportunity to talk about diversity, particularly the need to provide equal opportunities for working women. Agnes Hubert, head of the Equal Opportunities Unit of the European Commission, noted at the conference that 52 percent of the EU population and 40 percent of its labor market are women, and that promoting equal opportunities for women in EU countries is an economic issue, not a women’s issue.4

President Clinton, visiting Japan’s Waseda University in July 1993, told a thousand students that “Japan with its low birthrate and its long life expectancy will have to take advantage of the skills of women if it wants to continue to grow economically.”5 His comment, and the fact that it was made in Japan, illustrates a growing awareness that women should be viewed in economic terms.

In the United States, the Glass Ceiling Commission was created as part of the Civil Rights Act of 1991. Chaired by the secretary of labor, it is composed of twenty-one members representing business, labor, education, and government. The commission’s purpose is to study and (p.173) monitor corporations and government agencies to make sure that barriers to the advancement of women are removed. The commission has conducted hearings around the country in an attempt to learn where barriers exist and how or if organizations are dislodging them. Based on testimony given at these hearings and research findings from studies funded by the commission, a set of recommendations will be prepared and sent to the president in late 1995. According to a report released by the commission in March 1995, women in the United States have moved from the clerical basement to the managerial mezzanine, but the door to the executive suite still remains largely closed. In 1993 92.5 percent of successful women executives surveyed by Korn Ferry said they believed a “glass ceiling still exists”; two years later, in the words of the Los Angeles Times, the glass ceiling seemed “more like a steel cage.”6 It seems safe to predict that by the end of 1995 men will continue to have access to organizational elevators while most women are forced to take the stairs.

In the EU countries as well, women are still climbing the stairs and not being shown the elevator. However, in 1992 eleven EU states (excluding Britain) signed a protocol stating that by majority vote the members could act to ensure equality between men and women at work. And a 1992 EU document, “The Position of Women in the Labor Market,” suggested that “throughout Europe women are gearing up under the sign of discrimination.”7

In Britain, too, women rarely ride an elevator. In 1990 the Hansard Society, whose aim is to encourage citizen understanding of and participation in parliamentary government, published a report much like the one the U. S. Glass Ceiling Commission produced. The Hansard report documented pervasive barriers to the appointment of women to senior professional positions, outmoded attitudes about women, and direct and indirect discrimination.8 That report was a forerunner of the important efforts now underway in the National Health Service, as discussed below.

(p.174) In Japan women generally remain in the clerical basement, although a few have reached the first floor. It can be said that Japanese women are just learning that elevators exist. Yet there are indications of a growing awareness in Japan that women constitute an economic resource. Because of a labor shortage of professionals, the beginning of a women’s movement, and the opening of doors to traditionally male professions, Japan in the next few decades could experience an influx of women into its workforce much like what happened in the 1970s and 1980s in the United States. If it does, Japan could become an even more formidable competitor for the United States than it is today.

Global economic conditions in the early 1990s were such that tapping the talents of women (as well as men) took a back seat to the creation of jobs. However, as conditions improve, the demand for skilled labor and potential leaders will increase. Countries that recognize the value of women as an economic resource today will be the best prepared to compete internationally tomorrow, for everywhere in the world there is a limited pool of potential managers.

Comparing the under utilization of women in Japan, Britain, and the EU countries is difficult because every country collects, categorizes, and reports information differently. However, it is possible to give a thumbnail sketch by comparing available data. That is the intent of Table 1.

Table 1 shows that the United States produces more educated women, has a higher female labor participation rate, has more women in traditionally male occupations, and has more women in middle and upper management positions than do the other countries. The large number of women receiving M. D.'s, M. B. A.'s, Ph. D.'s, and law degrees (in addition to bachelor’s degrees in all fields) attests to the large supply of potential professional women in the United States. The EU countries also have high percentages of women in professional schools, although their absolute numbers are few in comparison to U. S. numbers. The fact that only 14 percent of the Japanese women who go to (p.175) college attend four-year schools and that only 26 percent of all Japanese university students are women seems surprising, because most Japanese children graduate from high school. However, for Japanese women a four-year college degree primarily means a better chance for a “good” husband, not a good job. In Japan a college degree from a leading university helps men but not women obtain career positions. Even with a degree from a leading university, a woman is rarely hired for a career position. Thus, there has historically been little incentive for women to get degrees from major universities. This is changing, albeit slowly.

Table 1 provides a very general comparison of the various countries in the context of the underutilization measures discussed in Chapter 3. Clearly, the table is no more than a snapshot at a given time. What it does show is that women are underutilized around the world. However, in the United States there are more women than elsewhere poised to assume leadership positions.

Comparative Support Mechanisms

The underutilization measures in Table 1 tell only part of the story. For a better comparison of U. S. women with those in competing countries, it is also necessary to assess the quality of the environment in which they work. The presence or absence of laws and support systems says much about the future of women. Table 2 compares countries in the context of laws and other types of support mechanisms that help women take advantage of career opportunities.

As Table 2 shows, the United States has in place many more support systems than most of its economic competitors. Discrimination and equal opportunity laws in the United States carry sanctions for noncompliance, and there are many women’s networks and professional organizations. Women have considerable access to male-dominated professions (p.176) (p.177) (p.178) (p.179) (p.180) (p.181) (p.182) (p.183) (p.184) and occupations, and there is a strong women’s movement. This is not so in Japan, where laws have no teeth and there are few women’s organizations and a weak national women’s movement. Most important, access to male-dominated professions is limited in Japan. In Britain there are laws with sanctions, and major corporate and government initiatives. There is a growing number of women’s organizations, as well as a women’s movement that is gaining strength. However, men and women are prepared differently for careers, and women do not have as much access to managerial and executive training as men do.

Table 1. Comparative Underutilization of Women

United States



EU Countries

Labor participation rates

Women constitute 56% of the labor force. Labor participation rate starts at age 18 and peaks at 45, with only a slight decrease of 2% during childbearing years (33–35). 52% who work have children under the age of six. Female participation projections for the year 2000 are ~ 62%.1

Women constitute 40% of the labor force. 50% of women work. The average length of continuous employment is 7.2 years. Participation rate starts at 18 and peaks before 20. It drops dramatically 23% from ages 20–24, increases slowly again until ages 35–40, but never returns to the original rate.2

60% of women work, and comprise 44% of the total work force.3 Labor participation rate starts at 18 and rises to one peak at ages 20–24. Drops 8% at 25–34 and increases again to its highest peak at 35–39.4

41.2% of the labor force is women.5 50% of all EU women work. 16% of women with children under 6 are employed. Labor participation rate starts at 18, peaks before childbearing years (25–29), and decreases from then on.4

Unemployment and underemployment

The overall unemployment rate for women is 5.3% vs. 5.1% for men. 17% of the labor force works part-time. 68% of part-time workers are women.6 27% of employed women work part-time.1

The overall unemployment rate for men and women is the same—2.3%.6 18% of the labor force works part-time.2 70% of part-time workers are women.9 27% of employed women work part-time.2

The overall unemployment rate for women is 7% vs. 9% for men.7 22% of the labor force works part-time.5 90% of part-time workers are women.3 45% of employed women work part-time.5

The overall unemployment rate for women is 14% vs. 7% for men.8 13% of the labor force works part-time.6 ~ 80% of part-time workers are women.1 12% of employed women work part-time.5

Underrepresentation (% managerial10)

In large organizations 41% of middle managers are women. 3%-5% are top executives.11

In large organizations 6% of middle managers are women.12 Less than 1% are top executives.13

In large organizations women comprise 29% of middle managers.14 3% are top executives.3

In large organizations women comprise 18% of middle managers. 1.5% are top executives.15

Sex-segregated occupations

High percentage of women in traditionally male occupations and professions. Males advance faster than females in female-dominated areas (e. g., nursing).16

In all industries at all levels, except community service, women have less than 10% representation.6 99% of clerical jobs are held by women.17 98% of career-track workers are men.18

42% of women are employed in service organizations.19 50% of female managers are in office work, catering, and retail.20

Very little data available, except that there is no representation of women exceeding 26% in managerial positions by occupation.6

Pay equity

Women earn 70% of men’s wages.21 Parity is closer for blue-collar than for white-collar workers.22

Women earn 50% of men’s wages.23

Women earn 70% of men’s earnings.6 This gap is believed to be wider than in any other EU country.24

Women earn 85% of men’s earnings.6


52% of college students are women. Women represent 30% of medical students, 30%-40% of M. B. A. students, 40% of law students, 15% of engineering students.25

26% of college students are women. 14% of women attend a four-year-school.23 Most attend a two-year or junior college. 5% of law students are women. 20% of humanities students are women. There are no business schools in Japan.26

50% of the college and university population is women.27 50% of law and medical students are women.28

48% of college students are women. 40% of business, economics, and law graduates are female.29

Source: Compiled by Kim Jaussi, 1993.

(1) . Marianne A. Ferber and Brigid O’Farrell. eds., Work: and Family (Washington. DC.: National Academy Press, 1991).

(2) . Jyosei Shokugo Zaidan. “Female Employment Organization,” Working Women Encyclopedia (Tokyo: Toyo Keizai Shinposha. 1991).

(3) . Clare Bebbington, “Ladies Don't Climb Ladders,” Eurobuslness, December 1988. 12–17.

(4) . ILO. Yearbook of Labor Statistics, 1992.

(5) . Marilyn J. Davidson and Cary L. Cooper, eds., European Women in Business and Management (London: Paul Chapman, 1993).

(6) . “Working Women of the World,” compilation of graphs by one of the author’s students. 1992.

(7) . “Women and the Labour Market: Result from 1991 Labour Force Survey,” Employment Gazette, September 1992. 433.

(8) . Commission of the European Communities, Social Europe, March 1991, 26.

(9) . James Steirigold, “A Feminist Politician in Tokyo Uses Anger and Pranks to Battle Despair,” New York Times, March 14, 1993.

(10) . “Managerial” is used here in a. very general way to describe positions in middle to upper management. The term “manager” is often vague and can include administrative work as well, but not the top executive level. “Top executives” are those with primary budget and decision-making authority.

(11) . Korn Ferry International with the UCLA Anderson Graduate School of Management, Decade of the Executive Woman, 1993.

(12) . “It’s Not the Kind of Job I'd Line Up For,” Newsweek, May 24, 1993, 33–37.

(13) . “Japan Inc.: Peeking Inside the Closed Corporation,” Working Woman, June 1992, 20.

(14) . Val Hammond, “Opportunity 2000: A Cultural Change Approach to Equal Opportunity,” Women in Management Review 7, no. 7 (1992): 3–10.

(15) . Ariane Berthoin Antal and Camilla Krebsbach-Gnath, “Women in Management: Unused Resources in the Federal Republic of Germany,” in Nancy J. Adler and Dafna N. Izraeli, eds., Women in Management Worldwide (Armonk, N. Y.: M. E. Sharpe, 1988).

(16) . Myra H. Strober, “Gender and Occupational Segregation,” International Encyclopedia of Education, 2d ed. (Oxford, England: Pergamon Press, 1994).

(17) . Anne B. Fisher, “Japanese Working Women Strike Back,” Fortune, May 31, 1993, 22.

(18) . Teresa Watanabe, “Japan Inc., No Friend to Women,” Los Angeles Times, September 19, 1992.

(19) . Beverly Alimo-Metcalfe, “What a Waste! Women in the National Health Service,” Women in Management Review and Abstracts 6, no. 5 (1991): 17–24.

(20) . Beverly Alimo-Metcalfe and Colleen Wedderbum-Tate, “The United Kingdom,” in Davidson and Cooper, European Women, 16–42.

(21) . This aggregate figure from the Wall Street Journal (see n. 22) includes all occupations and levels and may not accurately reflect pay differences in specific occupations and/or levels.

(22) . “Three Decades after the Equal Pay Act, Women’s Wages Remain Far from Parity,” Wall Street Journal, B-1, B-10.

(23) . Kazuko Watanabe, “The Cold War with Japan: How Are Women Paying for It?” Ms., November-December 1991, 18–22.

(24) . “Extent of Discrimination against Women in Employment in the U. K.,” Institute of Management Foundation, Corby, England, 1992.

(25) . Statistical Abstract of the United States, 1993.

(26) . Mary C. Brinton, Women and the Economic Miracle (Berkeley: University of California Press. 1993), 203.

(27) . Elaine Mitchell Attais, journalist, conversation with author, Beverly Hills, California, May 24, 1993.

(28) . Barbara Mills, “Equal Opportunities—Policy into Practice,” speech delivered at the Equal to the Task conference, Birmingham, England, December 7, 1992.

(29) . Education in OECD Countries, 1987–88, special ed. (Paris: Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, 1990).

Table 2. Comparative Support Mechanisms

United States



EU Countries

Equal employment opportunity/pay laws

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) given power to enforce Title VII in 1972 under Equal Employment Opportunities Act. Equal Pay Act of 1963.

Equal Employment Opportunity Law (EEOL) enacted in 1986. No sanctions.

Sex Discrimination Act of 1975. Equal Pay Act of 1970. Employment Act of 1989.

Article 119 of Treaty of Rome, 1963. EU directives on equal opportunities. Equal pay and equal opportunities laws in many EU countries.

Government and/or corporate initiatives

Federal Commission on the Glass Ceiling, established by the U. S. Department of Labor.1 State and local commissions on the status of women. Large number of corporate and government programs aimed at recruiting and retaining women.

No widespread government or corporate initiatives.

Equal Opportunities Commission. Opportunity 2000. New Horizons for Women regional campaigns.2 Women’s Unit in National Health Service.

EU directives on equal treatment, equal pay, and social protections including burden of proof, parental leave, occupational and statutory social protection, and protection for women who are pregnant or have recently given birth.3 New Opportunities for Women (NOW) initiative.4

Work/family support

1993 Family Leave Act, 12 weeks unpaid leave, with job security. Many corporate and government flexible work hours, job-sharing programs.

Law enacted in April 1992 granting up to one year’s childcare leave for both parents.5

18-week paid maternity leave for full-time employees who have worked for two years and another 11 -week unpaid leave with the right to return to work.6

EU Commission’s Recommendation for Childcare mandated Family Leave Acts in most EU countries. Flexible work hours and job-sharing programs increasing.3

Women’s movement/ networks

Many established women’s networks, e. g., National Organization for Women, National Women’s Political Caucus, Business and Professional Women. Many professional women’s groups. 30-year-old national women’s movement.

A few women’s organizations, e. g., Japan Pacific Resource Network (JPRN), Asian Women’s Association.7 No major women’s movement.8

Growing number of women’s organizations, e. g., Women in Management, Women in Banking. Various professional women’s groups. Emerging and rapidly growing women’s movement.9

Indications of a women’s movement. Established professional women’s network: European Women’s Management Development (EWMD).6 Growing number of women’s organizations, e. g., Association of Working Women, Women in Business (WIB) in Germany, and the Frankfurt Forum (a network of foreign and German women managers).10

Differences in career path training

Relatively easy for women to enter traditionally male professions. Multiple types of training available for women. Impediments for women at upper-middle management level. Many women starting firms.11

Companies do not track men and women equally and do not offer equal opportunities to women. Men trained throughout the corporation as generalise women as clerical. Many female-owned and female-run small businesses.12

Many training programs for men and women, but men and women trained differently. Abundance of training at the skill level and divergence at the upper management level. Men have more access to broader management development programs than women. 25% of the self-employed are women.13

In-house training programs that filter out women.10 Because of denied access to training, women are promoted less often than men. In Germany, apprenticeship practices disadvantage women.14 Many women starting firms.14

Source: Compiled by Kim Jaussi, 1993.

(1) . See “Committee Seeks to Define Glass Ceiling,” USA Today. December 9, 1992, 9B.

(2) . “Equal to the Task,” EDG U. K. fact sheet. 6–12.

(3) . Commission of the European Communities, Social Europe, March 1991.

(4) . Commission of the European Communities, Equal Opportunities for Women and Men, March 1991, 7.

(5) . “Men Take Advantage of Child-Care Leave,” Nikkei Weekly, February 15, 1993.

(6) . Valerie Hammond. “Women in Management in Great Britain,” in Nancy J. Adler and Dafna N. Izraeli. eds., Women in Management Worldwide (Armonk, N. Y.: M. E. Sharpe, 1988), 168–86.

(7) . Kazuko Watanabe, “The Cold War With Japan: How Are Women Paying for It?” Ms., November-December 1991, 18–22.

(8) . Sumiko Iwao, The Japanese Woman (New York: Free Press, 1993).

(9) . Valerie Hammond and Viki Holton, “Great Britain: The Scenario for Woman Managers in Britain in the 1990s.” in Nancy J. Adler and Dafna N. Izraeli, eds., Competitive Frontiers (Cambridge, Mass.: Blackwell, 1994), 224–42.

(10) . Ariane Berthoin Antal and Camilla Krebsbach-Gnath, “Women in Management: Unused Resources in the Federal Republic of Germany,” in Adler and Izraeli, Women in Management Worldwide.

(11) . Joline Godfrey, Our Wildest Dreams (New York: Harper Business, 1992).

(12) . Mary C. Brinton, Women and the Economic Miracle (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), 32–33.

(13) . Beverly Alimo-Metcalfe and Colleen Wedderbum-Tate, “The United Kingdom,” in Marilyn J. Davidson and Cary Cooper, eds., European Women in Business and Management (London: Paul Chapman, 1993), 16–42.

(14) . Ariane Berthoin Antal and Dafna N. Izraeli, “A Global Comparison of Women in Management,” in Ellen A. Fagenson, ed., Women in Management (Newbury Park, Calif.: Sage, 1993), 68.

The EU countries today are aware of the underutilization issue as a result of the Directives of the Commission of the European Communities, which are discussed below. These directives mandate changes that will eventually facilitate the advancement of all women. A strong EU professional network is in place, and a growing number of profession-specific organizations are forming. However, women receive relatively little support when it comes to training and career development. In 1990, recognizing this deficiency, the Commission of the European Communities launched an initiative called New Opportunities for Women (NOW) to promote the training of women and address the difficulties they encounter specifically because they are women.9 Traditional apprenticeship practices in many European countries disadvantage women because they were developed for men. However, women have begun to enter male-dominated professions, and it can be anticipated that this will continue.

Overall, the United States has a better support system for women than its competitors. Women have better access to all professions and managerial positions. They have many strong professional women’s organizations. And they benefit from a thirty-year-old national women’s movement. The U. S. advantage can be seen more clearly if we take a closer look at support mechanisms in the EU countries, Britain, and Japan.

(p.185) The European Union

The EU has launched a major campaign to provide opportunities for women to utilize their education and talents more fully. Part of this campaign was the Equal to the Task conference mentioned earlier. Such a conference would not have been possible even a decade ago. To judge from the conference participation of the EU member countries, it is clear that the issue of women as an economic resource is on the minds of European corporate and government leaders.

Because of their size, individual European countries do not constitute a serious challenge to America’s economic well-being, but in the aggregate they do. Christine Crawley, a member of the European Parliament, notes that women in the European Union “still have a long way to go before they catch up with men—economically, politically and socially.”10 It follows that they also have a long way to go before they catch up with the United States. However, Crawley and others who are trying to improve working conditions for women point out that the Committee on Women’s Rights of the European Parliament, together with the Commission of the European Communities, is providing a legal and programmatic framework that will assist governments and corporations in efforts to enhance the role of women in the labor force.

One of the major objectives of the European Union is to improve living and working conditions for the people of Europe. The main problem facing women in the EU, as in other countries, is inequality at work. To address this and similar problems, the EU has adopted five directives that are worth noting, for the member nations have agreed to abide by them, and so they portend changes in EU organizations.11 The directives mandate:

  • Legal guarantees enforcing equal pay for work of equal value

  • Equal treatment with regard to recruitment, vocational training, and promotion

  • (p.186) Equal treatment in social security matters, with the goal of achieving equal treatment in statutory social security schemes

  • Equal treatment in occupational social security schemes

  • Equal treatment in self-employment, including those employed in agriculture12

The United Kingdom and Opportunity 2000

An example of how the EU directives can translate into an individual government initiative is the Opportunity 2000 effort launched in the United Kingdom in October 1991.13 Opportunity 2000 is a public/private initiative designed to increase the quantity and quality of women’s participation in the workforce. It grew out of the work of a team of women led by Lady Howe, chair of Business in the Community, a foundation supported by nearly five thousand major U. K. companies, along with representatives of government, trade unions, and the voluntary sector.

The mission of Opportunity 2000 is to encourage companies and government agencies to set goals for increasing opportunities for women, particularly in management, by the year 2000. It assists the boards of directors of member organizations by offering practical techniques that can be used by their line managers. It provides publications, workshops, and research findings, and links organizations with human resource specialists. In essence, it is a national clearinghouse for firms that wish to utilize the abilities of their female personnel more fully. The United States has no such single clearinghouse.

Opportunity 2000 was created to carry out the EU directives. Membership is voluntary, but each member is required to pay a fee that covers the kinds of services mentioned above. In addition, member organizations are required to make three commitments:

  • Develop clearly articulated organizational goals spelling out what will be accomplished for women.

  • (p.187) Publish organizational goals where they can be seen by the public, i. e., in ads, annual reports, etc.

  • Monitor progress toward achievement of the stated goals and report on it publicly on a regular basis.

What is impressive about the Opportunity 2000 program is that it is not merely a set of ideological policies. It requires the articulation of specific goals and the measurement of their achievement. It is important to note that the program’s rationale emphasizes business advantages rather than social equity:

  • Improvement in customer/market orientation

  • Offering women an employer of choice

  • Reduction in organizational costs

  • Increase in productivity

  • Increase in creativity and innovation

  • Development of individual potential

Opportunity 2000 distributes a brochure to its members that states, “Underutilization of the skill and talent of half the population and approximately 45% of the workforce is socially and economically wasteful, and unprofitable in business terms. Increased opportunity for women is central to organizational and business effectiveness.” The brochure makes the following specific suggestions for bringing about change:

  • Include discussions of progress on equal opportunity in the annual report to shareholders and in staff reports.

  • Make reference to equal opportunity in the organization’s mission statement.

  • Appoint an equal opportunity champion at the board level to support equal opportunity practitioners.

  • Ensure that external messages communicated through advertising, promotional materials, annual reports, etc., reflect internal goals.

  • Require the monitoring of performance against equal (p.188) opportunity goals, and reward success appropriately and publicly.

  • Set up a forum for dialogue between management and women in the organization.

Admittedly, Opportunity 2000 is only a few years old, and its success has yet to be proven in quantifiable terms. However, it has made at least some executives agree with Paul Southworth, president of Avon Cosmetics U. K., who says, “We need women to get competitive advantage.”14 In 1992 there were 140 member organizations in Opportunity 2000, employing more than 25 percent of the total U. K. workforce. Most member organizations have published goals and issued progress reports, and there are several success stories.

Barclays Bank PLC now offers a formal job-sharing program and private medical care for its part-time managers, many of whom are women. The bank has instituted a “responsibility break” that entitles those responsible for sick, elderly, or disabled relatives to take a complete leave or work part-time for up to six months. The bank’s annual report contains a yearly progress report on women in the firm, something rarely found in U. S. annual reports. At the end of its first year in Opportunity 2000, Boots the Chemist, a major drugstore chain, had achieved its stated goal of increasing the number of women in supervisory, management, and senior positions. Shell U. K., a large oil company, has substantially reduced its female turnover rate. It has increased the number of women recruited, specified percentage targets for women, and developed action plans that are publicized internally and externally.

Although most Opportunity 2000 members are private sector corporations, government agencies also belong. One that provides a good case study of a major effort to address female underutilization is the National Health Service (NHS). This effort is particularly interesting since the NHS employs a very large number of professional women.

(p.189) The NHS is the largest Opportunity 2000 member, and was the first to join the program. It is also the third-largest employer in the world, and the largest employer of women in Europe.15 It has 1,000,000 employees, the vast majority of whom (750,000) are women. Eighty-three percent of the top management posts are held by men. Not only is there a considerable difference in the way men and women are represented in NHS management, but access to senior management has historically been discriminatory.16 In the area of nursing, 90 percent of the qualified nurses are women, but 45 percent of the chief nursing officers are men.17 Although 61 percent of the NHS finance staff are women, they hold only 9 percent of top-grade finance director posts in health authorities and trusts.18

In 1982 Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said, “The battle for women’s rights has been largely won.”19 A decade later Martin Whitfield, labor correspondent for the Independent, said, “The Civil Service has failed in its objective set eight years ago to promote women to the highest jobs.”20 Regardless of whose comment best describes women in the United Kingdom, there is widespread agreement that new winds have been blowing since April 1991, when Prime Minister John Major’s secretary of state for health, Virginia Bottomley, created a Women’s Unit in the NHS.

The Women’s Unit is primarily responsible for the Opportunity 2000 effort in the NHS, and operates in conjunction with the U. K. Equal Opportunities Commission. A prime objective of its program is to utilize female physicians more fully and to increase the number of women general managers from 18 percent to 30 percent.21 The program is well on its way to seeing its goals realized. Caroline Langridge, director of the NHS Women’s Unit, is dedicated to making sure the objective is reached, and her commitment has much to do with the program’s success so far. There is a strong emphasis on management training. Valerie Hammond, chief executive of the Roffey Park Management Institute, Dr. Beverly Alimo-Metcalfe of the Nuffield Institute (p.190) for Health at the University of Leeds, and Ann James, formerly of the Kings Fund College, have been key players in the research and training effort at the NHS.

The NHS program has a number of initiatives, one of which is a National Career Development Register that identifies senior women managers who wish to compete for top management posts. Women on the register are helped by career development managers to ensure their advancement to key positions in the NHS. In its first year, of about five hundred women on the register, eighty-four were promoted, forty-nine of them (10 percent) to board-level posts.22 This innovative program is a model of proactive career development for women.

All NHS employees receive a guide to Opportunity 2000, which spells out in detail the goals of the program. It is an attempt to introduce all one million employees to the agency’s emphasis on equal opportunity efforts. It includes a section titled “What about Men?” that explains how men too can take advantage of the chance to balance work and family better by supporting Opportunity 2000 goals.

A possible indication of the success of Opportunity 2000 at the NHS is that there appears to be a growing resistance to the program on the part of top male executives. Such resistance, or male backlash, is generally not seen until major changes are taking place and the status quo is challenged. Ann James, who helped train potential women leaders at the NHS, says, “This effort is much harder than we thought. We didn't expect the backlash.”23 Caroline Langridge did, however. “The implementation of Opportunity 2000 coincided with the U. K. recession and a real contraction in top management posts at the NHS, leading to the inevitable backlash,” she says. “More surprisingly, men, impressed by the results, have now demanded access to the same action programmes run for women. In this case, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”24

While it is too soon to know whether the NHS Opportunity 2000 program will translate into economic competition (p.191) for the United States, the effort is worth watching. If the largest government bureaucracy in the United Kingdom can effectively tap into its women employees by creating an environment where women are valued, that may prove to be an important lesson for American organizations.


In Japan, there is no Glass Ceiling Commission, no Opportunity 2000, no other similar effort to address the under-utilization of professional women. An Equal Employment Opportunity Law was passed in 1986 and is often cited by Japanese executives as an indication of their interest in this issue. However, since there are no sanctions for noncompliance, its value is somewhat questionable. Similarly, although 90 percent of all Japanese companies offer childcare leave, almost 60 percent of these companies report that they haven't had a single request for leave since the universal childcare leave law was enacted in April 1992.25

The issue of employee rights is new in Japan, but there is an increasing awareness that international standards regarding the treatment of women will force Japan to change. The labor shortage and a shift in employee attitudes are also contributing to a transformation of Japan’s work environment. The concept of lifetime employment is collapsing, and seniority-based practices are disappearing. All these changes will require a new focus on human resource policy, which will have a profound impact on future employment practices in Japan.26

Japanese executives are noticing an increase in requests from career women in their companies to be assigned abroad. Michiyo Kozaki, a twenty-eight-year-old sales executive at the Hong Kong branch of a Japanese furniture concern, is a case in point. To get the job she wanted, she left Japan. Many Japanese professional women are going to Hong Kong, where they feel that they are respected because their talents are needed. “Between 1991 and 1993, the number of Japanese (p.192) women in Hong Kong jumped by nearly 25% to 7,381, according to the most recent data available from the Japanese consulate in Hong Kong,” reports the Wall Street Journal.27 At the same time, more and more American women are pursuing positions outside the United States because they feel international experience is necessary for top-level positions.28 Professional women in all countries are becoming more internationally mobile. They are shopping around the world for positions that best take advantage of their abilities and prepare them for a job market where international experience is increasingly important.

The number of Japanese women with career aspirations is relatively small. This is not surprising, since Japan is a country where being dutiful wives and daughters is still considered the proper role of women. However, this too is changing. Women have always worked in Japan, but not in professional or managerial positions. What is changing is the type of women who work and the reasons they work. Historically, women worked on farms and in small shops, places where they could keep an eye on their children, which was their primary task. Fully employed women with high school or college diplomas, called “salary girls” or “business girls,” have mostly been young and single. Women traditionally quit their jobs as soon as they got married, for once a woman married (and most did until recently), her career was considered over.29 Today, however, the number of women entering medicine, law, the civil service, business, and engineering is increasing, and women are working not only for economic survival but because they desire a career. There is evidence that large Japanese firms are beginning to offer women career opportunities.30 This development may be related to a long-term labor shortage; some observers believe that Japanese executives would rather promote Japanese women than hire male foreigners.

Still, Lewis Steel, an attorney who represents plaintiffs in sex discrimination cases brought against Japanese firms, says that Japanese executives “treat women like office flowers.”31 (p.193) Men are clearly directed into generalist career paths, and women into noncareer clerical paths.32 Japanese women professionals say men are given better assignments and rotations, and have more opportunities to establish important business relationships through socializing after work. Like their American counterparts, but to an even greater degree, they feel that the abilities of women are usually overlooked or discounted.

Japanese women who are married and have children are the most likely to feel underutilized, while those who are single are the least likely. This makes sense, since married women are assumed to be “drop-outs” in the Japanese management culture, where marriage is a much greater deterrent to career success than in the United States and the EU countries. However, this is slowly changing, and even Japanese men are beginning to disregard traditional work /family customs. Also, Japanese women are delaying marriage, and a new term, kekkon shinai kamoshiranai shokogun (“I might not get married”), has emerged.33 The implication is that Japanese women may be sacrificing family for career, as American women began to do in the 1970s. In any case, a few large firms have begun to recognize the need to attract and retain female employees and have built on-site day care centers.34

The fact that the Japanese princess, Masako Owada, was Harvard-trained, and was a highly successful career woman before marrying the Japanese prince, cannot be overlooked in the context of the changing view of professional women in Japan. All eyes are now on her to see how or if she will have, an impact on the role of women in Japan. She donned the traditional gown for her marriage, but she talked longer than she was supposed to talk, and she is said to have extracted some promises about relaxing the constraints usually imposed on women in her position. Her popularity may be a sign of a major cultural change.35

Finally, one phenomenon that is often overlooked in discussions of Japan is the large number of women—approximately (p.194) 2,500,000—who own and run nonagricultural small businesses. Most of these businesses employ fewer than five workers, and many arc family-owned shops. Nonetheless, the experience women gain in this type of endeavor provides them with a work ethic that is transferable.

Should the women of Japan begin to organize, their large numbers could have an impact on the innovativeness and productivity of Japanese business. The United States can't afford to ignore this possibility. The conversion of the talents of women into leadership skills maybe Japan’s competitive secret!

Comparative Perceptions of Female Underutilization

It is one thing to talk about concrete directives, goals, and programs. It is another to talk about perceptions, which are much more subjective. As I said in Chapter 4, the perceptions of men and women are often so different that it is as though they live in different cultures. Similarly, the perceptions of women in different countries differ because of cultural variations. Because “perception is reality” and as such motivates behavior, I surveyed women in the United States, Japan, Britain, and a few EU countries to find out how they perceived the underutilization issue.36 Their responses support a few general observations.

American and British women said that “underutilization” means that one’s skills and abilities are not being used. They made such comments as “Being given things to do that others with less education and ability could do,” “Not being made responsible for tasks that capitalize on the best use of my skills and knowledge,” and “Company sticks with job description/expectations rather than taking advantage of an individual’s specific and unique talents and experience.” EU women were briefer, mentioning “waste of resources” or (p.195) “not taking advantage of abilities,” usually without a gender connotation.

Japanese women tended to be very gender-specific. The word “woman” was in all of their responses, perhaps because they interpreted the question differently or because the unfamiliar word “underutilization” was somehow assumed to be connected to the plight of women. “Fewer opportunities are given women than men” was a common response. One female Japanese executive said, “The company doesn't expect knowledge, skills, or abilities from women.” Another said, “The same type of job is not assigned to a woman in comparison with a man of the same age, education, and ability.” A number of Japanese women who had been asked to perform “beverage service” (making and serving tea to men) gave this as an illustration of underutilization, something that requires little talent and is not expected of men.

When asked whether they felt personally underutilized, most American and European women said yes. German women were most likely to say no or to make light of the problem. As one German woman said, “Whenever I felt underutilized, I switched jobs.” In other words, if a woman is underutilized, all she has to do is leave.

The few Japanese women who said they didn't feel underutilized may have been operating on the “relative deprivation” theory.37 That is, compared to most women in Japan, women with some kind of career probably feel they are in a good place. Since most Japanese working women still find themselves performing “beverage service,” those who don't may think their true talents have been recognized. On the other hand, they still feel devalued. “While I have to do clerical work and chores like serving tea to guests, photocopying, and filing,” one respondent said, “men with much less experience don't have to.” Most of the Japanese women said the workplace remains otoko no shakai, a man’s world.

There were many responses to the survey question (p.196) about how underutilization should be measured. While there was no widely agreed-upon method of measurement, there was a sense that performance appraisals are currently made by those least able to determine individual potential, namely, bosses. Why? Because they only take a narrow look at what is being done. The people whose abilities are being assessed are the people most likely to know what talents they have and how those talents could be effectively used, yet they are the least likely to be consulted. EU women’s responses were less detailed than those from other countries, consistent with their other responses about the underutilization issue. But EU women did suggest that employees be asked whether they feel all their skills are being used.

The Japanese responses to the measurement question were extremely vague. A number of respondents said utilization should be measured by “counting the numbers of women.” Since the Japanese culture tends to view performance in group rather than individual terms, Japanese women may not think about measuring individual potential. However, knowing how many women there are in some given position or organization does not tell us much about whether or how their talents are being used.

The question about what needs to be done to address female underutilization elicited many answers from American and British women. They mentioned the need to increase family support systems such as childcare, flextime, and job sharing, but they also called for major organizational changes, including performance standards that recognize female as well as male work characteristics, ways of organizing work so that part-time employment is not seen as second-rate, equal educational and training opportunities, and changes in hierarchical structures that limit women’s career development.

The responses of EU women were more general and more related to major cultured change. For example, one woman simply said, “Education,” another said, “Stop worrying about women’s development, start worrying about attitudes (p.197) of young men,” and a third said, “Place women in more decision centers.” Such comments suggest that EU women are not yet thinking much about the economic under utilization of women.

Japanese women had many insightful suggestions for change, ranging from “termination of traditional sex roles and the seniority system” to a demand that men “change their values and increase their understanding of working women” to a request for “changes in ways jobs are assigned and performance is appraised.” Other responses, such as “Professional jobs should be available on a part-time basis” and “Both men and women have to work less and balance work and family,” are consistent with recent newspaper stories indicating that not all women in Japan are willing to play traditional female roles. “Rushing into marriage is especially hazardous these days because men’s and women’s expectations are diverging,” reports a Wall Street Journal article. “The typical young man here still wants a girl like mom, who will raise his kids and tend to his needs, but many women are seeking a new deal.”38

The results of my informed survey reinforce the main message of this book: that women, men, and organizations have to change if the talents of women are to be utilized more fully and the United States is to secure a competitive lead. Although America appears to have a head start in the race to leverage the abilities of women, there is no guarantee that it will win the race. The EU’s increasingly strong effort to ensure equal opportunities for women is being translated into private initiatives that may ultimately change the way women are valued in those countries. The implications of such a change cannot be overlooked.

The United States, meanwhile, is resting on its laurels. Much like IBM in the 1970s, it seems sure of its lead. U. S. organizations are not looking hard enough over their shoulder to see who’s behind, or far enough into the future to see what lies ahead. The United States is watching Japan, but not primarily in a human resource utilization context.

(p.198) It sees a government and corporate establishment with no major plans to enlist women in the labor force. It knows that Japanese corporations rarely enforce equal opportunity programs for women. And while Japanese officials proudly point to their equal opportunity law, it is no secret that there are no sanctions for noncompliance.

The women’s movement, the accessibility of public and private education, and strong affirmative action efforts since the 1970s are among the factors that have created a climate more hospitable to professional women in the United States than in Western Europe and Japan. However, as I have said, new winds are blowing around the world. If the United States doesn't hoist a weather vane, those winds could scatter its advantage in the global competition for human resources.


(1) . Deloitte & Touche ad, Wall Street Journal, October 12, 1993, A12–13.

(2) . The European Community changed its name and became the European Union at the Maastricht Conference in 1992. Although some of the data and documents mentioned in the text predate the name change, I use the new name throughout. And while Britain is part of the European Union, I discuss it separately because it has launched some programs that are particularly instructive.

(3) . Readers interested in a closer analysis of the situation of women in the workplace in other countries should consult Nancy J. Adler and Dafna N. Izraeli, eds., Competitive Frontiers: Women Managers in a Global Economy (Cambridge, Mass: Blackwell, 1994). See also Marilyn J. Davidson and Cary L. Cooper, eds., European Women in Business and Management (London: Paul Chapman, 1993).

(4) . Author’s notes on the Equal to the Task conference, Birmingham, England, December 7, 1992.

(5) . “Clinton Visits University, Wins Cheers for First Lady’s Role,” Los Angeles Times, July 7, 1993.

(6) . Decade of the Executive Woman, 16; “Glass Ceiling? It’s More Like a Steel Cage,” Los Angeles Times, March 20, 1995, B8.

(7) . Davidson and Cooper, European Women, 5, 14.

(8) . Beverly Alimo-Metcalfe and Colleen Wedderbum-Tate, “The United Kingdom,” in ibid., 16–42.

(9) . Commission of the European Communities, Equal Opportunities for Women and Men, March 1991, 7.

(10) . Christine Crawley, quoted in Commission of the European Communities, Social Europe, March 1991, 9.

(11) . Commission of the European Communities, “Women’s Rights and Equal Opportunities,” fact sheet no. 1.

(12) . Social Europe, 34.

(13) . My discussion of Opportunity 2000 relies heavily on Val Hammond, “Opportunity 2000: A Cultural Change Approach to Equal Opportunity,” Women in Management Review 7, no. 7 (1992): 3–10.

(14) . Quoted in Opportunity 2000 First Year Report, October 1992.

(15) . Beverly Alimo-Metcalfe, “What a Waste! Women in the National Health Service,” Women in Management Review and Abstracts 6, no. 5 (1991): 17–24.

(16) . Beverly Alimo-Metcalfe, “Gender and Appraisal: Findings from a National Survey of Managers in the British National Health Service,” paper presented at the Global Research Conference on Women in Management, Ottawa, Canada, October 21–23, 1992.

(17) . Ibid.

(18) . “NHS Reform a Tricky Operation,” Financial Times, December 9, 1992.

(19) . Quoted in Anne Stibbs, ed., A Woman’s Place (New York: Avon Books, 1992), 217.

(20) . Martin Whitfield, Independent, November 5, 1992.

(21) . “Women in the NHS: An Employee’s Guide to Opportunity 2000,” NHS Executive Management pamphlet, September 1992.

(22) . Caroline Langridge, fax to author, January 8, 1995.

(23) . Ann James, conversation with author, June 24, 1994.

(24) . Langridge fax, January 8, 1995.

(25) . “Child-Care Leave Not Yet Firmly Established in Japan,” Japan Economic Newswire, Kyodo News Service, March 30, 1993.

(26) . “Understanding Fair Employment,” Business Asia, April 12, 1993.

(27) . Jennifer Cody, “To Forge Ahead, Career Women Are Venturing out of Japan,” Wall Street Journal, August 29, 1994.

(28) . Nancy Adler, co-editor of Competitive Frontiers, conversation with author, Academy of Management meeting, August 1993.

(29) . Sumiko Iwao, The Japanese Woman (New York: Free Press, 1993), 153.

(30) . Adler and Izraeli, Competitive Frontiers, 93.

(31) . Quoted in Dennis Laurie, Yankee Samurai (New York: Harper-Business, 1992), 201.

(32) . Iwao, The Japanese Woman, 179.

(33) . Laurie, Yankee Samurai, 276. See also Iwao, The Japanese Woman, 63.

(34) . Iwao, The Japanese Woman, 144.

(35) . David E. Sanger, “The Career and the Kimono,”New York Times Magazine, May 30, 1993.

(36) . I conducted this survey in cooperation with European Women’s Management Development, an organization of professional women in Europe. The American women surveyed included executive women in a wide variety of professions and industries. The four-page survey questionnaire included sections on organizational data, work environment, employee utilization, and personal data. The conclusions are based on over two hundred responses. The information on Japanese women comes from the same questionnaire, distributed in a survey conducted in Japan by Mitsuyo Arimoto as part of an independent study for an M. B. A. at the University of California, Irvine. The Japanese women were also interviewed after they completed the written questionnaires.

(37) . Faye J. Crosby, Relative Deprivation and Working Women (New York: Oxford University Press, 1982).

(38) . Yumiko Ono, “Irked Brides in Japan Practice a New Rite: Ditching the Groom,” Wall Street Journal, January 4, 1993.