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Is There a Glass Ceiling for Women in Europe? A European Report 2021

Is There a Glass Ceiling for Women in Europe? A European Report 2021

According to the report jointly produced by JRC and DG REGIO, it seems so.

This report monitors regional gender equality using two composite indicators to determine gender equality and the glass ceiling in Europe.

The first is the Female Achievement Index (FemAI), and the other is the Female Disadvantage Index (FemDI). These two measure different aspects of gender equality and determine the number of invisible barriers women face in Europe to rise to senior positions.

This report found severe discrepancies to the existing glass ceiling for women across Europe. In some countries or regions, women face severe disadvantages compared to men. At the same time, women in other EU countries seem to face less discrimination and achieve more.

Let us see more details on this mapping of the glass ceiling in Europe and what it means for women.

What is the glass ceiling?

The glass ceiling is a metaphor to describe the invisible barriers individuals face during their careers to advance to senior positions within an organization. The individuals who seem more likely to encounter this glass ceiling are women and minorities.

In the classic corporate hierarchy, these top managerial positions are primarily male-dominated. The problem starts when no matter the hard work women put in, their gender becomes a barrier to their promotion. However, it is not a matter of competence but rather a set of unwritten rules based on cultural norms and implicit biases.

How the indices measure gender equality

This report relies on the Female Achievement Index (FemAI) and the Female Disadvantage Index (FemDI) to monitor gender equality in Europe.

  • FemAI, measures the female level of achievement compared to the best regional female performance. FemAI varies between 0 (lowest performance) and 100 (best performance),
  • FemDI, assesses the female disadvantage by measuring regional differences when women are doing worse than men. The lowest possible score is 0 (no disadvantage) and the highest possible score is 100 (largest disadvantage).

These two indices are based on 33 indicators, which in turn fall under seven domains:

Key findings on the glass ceiling for women in Europe

This report found out that the difficulties that women in Europe face vary based on the country and the region they live in. For instance, in the same country, women living in capital regions seem to be in a position to achieve more.

Overall, women who live in less developed parts of Europe seem to face more disadvantages than those living in more developed countries. Furthermore, a low index for Female Achievement is linked to lower GDP per capita. And finally, where women achieve more, the quality of government is also higher.


The glass ceiling is still a thing for women in 2021 in many regions across Europe. There are many initiatives at the EU level to achieve true gender equality in all aspects of society. Unfortunately, changing the backward cultural norms and eliminating biases is a slow process.

Shattering the glass ceiling is important for Europe as our societies can significantly benefit. Having more women in leadership positions can lead to greater human development, economic growth and create an equitable society for all.

To read the full report, you can download it by clicking here.

To gain more information on social inclusion and gender equality in Europe, you can read more on our social inclusion blogs.

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