An investigation of the extent and causes of vertical gender segregation in Irish small to medium enterprises (SMEs)
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Vertical gender segregation occurs where there is an overrepresentation of one gender at the lower status positions and an underrepresentation of that same gender in the higher status positions. Globally women are underrepresented at senior corporate decision making levels. Statistics published by the European Institute of Gender Equality (EIGE) in 2017 highlight that women occupy just 17.3 per cent of President, Board Member and Employee Representative positions on Boards of Directors in Irish businesses. This underrepresentation of women within these top corporate positions has generated vast volumes of research over the past four decades, with significant attention given to identifying both the causes and possible solutions to this vertical gender segregation of women. However, this prior research on the lack of women in senior corporate decisionmaking roles has focused on large organisations with over 250 employees with minimal reference to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). The SME sector is of huge economic importance both to the EU as a whole and Ireland itself. In Ireland 99 per cent of enterprises may be classified as SMEs and the sector is responsible for generating over 70 per cent of the job creation in the Irish labour market. However, due to vast differences in both human and financial capital and the policies and procedures between large organisations and SMEs the prior research conducted on large organisations may not accurately represent the experiences of over 70 per cent of the Irish workforce employed by SMEs. The purpose of this research study is to address this research gap by examining vertical gender segregation at managerial decision making levels of Irish SMEs. This study adopts a mixed methods methodological approach conducted over three phases of investigation. First, the causes and the extent of the vertical gender segregation of women in the top corporate decision making positions were identified from previous research. Secondly, a headcount measure was calculated to establish the extent of the gender imbalance at senior decision making levels in the Irish SME sector using data on 136 of the top financial performing SMEs in Ireland as identified in the Irish Times Top 1000 Companies in Ireland 2017 list. Finally, data was gathered from 133 surveys administered to employees, junior and senior managers, owners and directors of Irish ii SMEs to examine if the causes of vertical gender segregation identified in the prior research on large organisations were also present in Irish SMEs. Results showed significant gender imbalance exists at top decision-making positions of Irish SMEs, with women occupying just 14 per cent of President, Board Member and Employee Representative positions on the Boards of Directors of the Irish SMEs. Findings from the survey identified that gender stereotyping with regard to the level of commitment and investments made by women into their education and career in conjunction with continual conflict between home life and workplace responsibilities due to a lack of workplace flexibility may substantially impact the career progression of women.
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