For women in government, glass ceilings and invisible obstacles


Public administration efforts have a significant impact on our daily life. They determine the way decisions made by governments are implemented, and how budgets are allocated and spent.

Unfortunately, public administrations often leave out women’s voices in the planning, decision-making or implementation stages.

When women are not involved in decision-making, their ability to shape the well-being of societies weakens considerably.


I work at UNDP’s Istanbul Regional Hub, where we are working to advocate for increased participation of women in decision-making spaces. 

Advocacy work requires having strong data and evidence; facts and figures can help us show the impact of gender-based discrimination in its full expression. 

Unfortunately, finding data on gender equality in public administration is very difficult. For example, we have detailed sex-disaggregated data about public administration employees in Tajikistan and Montenegro, and sex-disaggregated data by job classification in Kyrgyzstan and Azerbaijan. But there is no available sex-disaggregated data about civil servants in Ukraine.

Data is often scarce and disparate, which makes comparisons and analyses difficult across different branches, countries and over a long period of time.


Still, the data we do have reveals multiple forms of gender-based discrimination that persist in public administration across the region of Europe and Central Asia. Here are a few takeaways from our research:

  1. Although more women complete higher education than men, it’s men who occupy the profitable sectors of the labour market, not women. Instead, women are concentrated in the less financially rewarded branches of public administration such as education, healthcare and social work.
  2.  Women managers are restricted to less central or strategic areas, like human resources and administration, as opposed to divisions where impactful decisions are getting made. In Kyrgyzstan, for example, there are no women employed in the State Social Fund or the State Material Reserves, while 70 percent of civil servants in the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Social Protection are women. 
  3. It’s still extremely difficult for women to move laterally into strategic areas such as product development or finance, and then upwards to key executive positions in the pyramidal structure that is characteristic of large organizations.
  4. Women’s career progression depends largely on their seniority; however, this is often slowed down by parental leave, which is almost always taken by women. Compared to men, women’s promotions in the workplace tend to take place later in life.
  5. Gender stereotypes have a powerful impact on the way women performance is perceived and impede their progression. Research shows that for most women, the gender bias that persists in organizations and in society disrupts the learning cycle at the heart of becoming a leader. Practices that equate leadership with behaviors considered more common in men imply that women are simply not cut out to be leaders. As a result, acquiring the qualities associated with leadership becomes particularly challenging for women, who must establish credibility in a culture that is deeply conflicted about whether, when, and how they should exercise authority. 
  6. Certain rules and practices specific to public service also work against women. Expected time and presence at work and meetings often penalizes women from the moment they have children. Also, since most of these sectors are dominated by men, there are many formal and informal networking opportunities available to men, which allows them to accelerate their careers. Finally, the opacity of appreciations and evaluations, hiring and promotion procedures limits women’s opportunities to challenge the system.


If you’re interested to learn more, see our latest report, GENDER EQUALITY IN PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION: Snapshot of Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

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