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Indonesian Female Bureaucrats Fall Off Career Ladder

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Written by: Moses Ompusunggu (The Jakarta Post)

Indonesian female bureaucrats are still facing various hindrances in rising to the highest ranks in ministries, with researchers calling for the need of a set of affirmative actions to address what global discourse has coined “the glass ceiling.”

The glass ceiling, according to the Glass Ceiling Commission in the United States, refers to the unseen, yet unbreachable barrier that keeps minorities and women from rising to the upper rungs of the corporate ladder, regardless of their qualifications or achievements.

The glass ceiling phenomenon still occurs at the time when Indonesia’s current topmost diplomat, economist, climate change negotiator, state-owned enterprises’ controller and illegal fishing crasher in President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s ministerial Cabinet are all women.

The career barrier in Indonesian ministries is so entrenched that many female officials have been reluctant to join the stiff competition for job promotion in their respective institutions, says Anna Margret, a University of Indonesia (UI) political scientist who studies the glass ceiling in Indonesia.

“Before joining the job promotion process, female civil servants have already thought that a higher position means a heavier burden, as they are demanded to also fulfill their roles in private matters, which is to be a mother, a wife and a daughter,” Anna says.

Anna is the leader of Cakra Wikara Indonesia (CWI), a group of diverse researchers that provides gender perspectives in its sociopolitical studies. Last year, the group concluded a study on the glass ceiling in 34 ministries within the Jokowi administration, finding the number of women in highest ranks of the ministries was low.

Fewer women on top

The study delved into the posture of bureaucracy from 2014 to 2016, discovering that the number of women in the highest echelons, consisting of five ranks in the 34 ministries, stood at 22.59 percent, 22.06 percent and 25.79 percent respectively in each year.

The findings were alarming, considering there was no significant inequality between women and men in the recruitment process and in the total number of civil servants in the assessed ministries.

From 2014 to 2016, the figure of female civil servants reached, respectively, 37.18 percent, 40.17 percent and 39.59 percent. The figures relatively resembled the total of non-echelon female civil servants in the assessed years, standing at 38.34 percent, 40.10 percent and 40.56 percent.

Women’s presence in 34 ministries

Ministries with the lowest number of women assuming upper echelon positions are the Transportation Ministry and the Religious Affairs Ministry with, respectively, 12.41 percent and 12.77 percent in 2016, while the only ministry where more than 50 percent of high-level positions were held by women was the Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection Ministry, the study found.

“In almost all ministries, women have been ‘lost’ in the highest ladder of career in bureaucracy,” says Anna.

Why women matter

There is no consensus, though, over the importance of women assuming the highest positions in bureaucracy. Anna, however, says the theory of responsive bureaucracy may serve as a rationale for increasing the number of female civil servants in the highest echelons in Indonesia’s ministries.

“There is no guarantee that a bureaucracy can get better if more women take high positions,” says Anna. “But the responsive bureaucracy theory believes a responsive bureaucracy is one that mirrors the composition of the served population.”

Fewer women in top jobs

(Percentage of women among upper-echelon officials in 34 ministries)

In the private sector, business consultant McKinsey & Company released a seminal work in 2015, titled “Why Diversity Matters”. McKinsey defines diversity as “a greater proportion of women and ethnically/culturally diverse individuals”, and in their research they find “that companies in the top quartile for gender or racial and ethnic diversity are more likely to have financial returns above their national industry medians”.

McKinsey examined data sets from 366 public companies across a range of industries in Canada, Latin America, the United Kingdom and the US.

This year, the company continued the research with another report, called “Delivering through Diversity”, which “reaffirms the global relevance of the correlation between diversity and company financial outperformance”.

Indonesian glass ceiling

Through interviews and analysis, CWI has discovered numerous factors begetting the glass ceiling in Indonesian bureaucracy. They ranged from gender stereotypes and tight working hours in the highest positions to the prevailing bureaucracy regulations that are not gender-sensitive.

“While men who focus on rising to the highest ranks in their careers garner praise and are considered to be successful, women who do so are judged for forgetting their nature and being neglectful of their families,” says Anna.

Female high-level bureaucrats interviewed by the researchers say female civil servants generally opt to prioritize their families than rise to higher positions in their career.

“The problem is, again, related to family. I cannot be like those women who leave their families to work abroad and only return once in a year,” says a female bureaucrat who holds a second-tiered position at the Health Ministry, which itself is led by Nila Farid Moeloek, a woman.

Another respondent, a female bureaucrat who assumes a third-tiered position at the Finance Ministry, says: “Because women have a role to take care of their households, they have to choose [whether to prioritize their families or career]. I have been aware of women who cannot advance in their career because they have to assume another role as housewives.”

Affirmative action

To help female bureaucrats advance in their career, Anna says the government needs to implement a set of affirmative actions akin to those implemented in other countries like in Australia and Scandinavian countries.

In those countries, female civil servants can enjoy numerous incentives like scholarships and allowances. In some Scandinavian countries, Anna says, governments even push husbands of female bureaucrats to take paternal leave up to two years at the most, which is meant to help their wives with taking care of and nurturing their children.

Despite the glass ceiling, young female bureaucrats believe they can still work in high positions in their career.

Efi Handayani, 26, who has been working as a civil servant at the inspectorate general of the Law and Human Rights Ministry for more than three years, says she is optimistic that she could someday achieve high positions at her institution.

“Women can still be dedicated to their husband while focusing on advancing in their career,” said Efi, a law graduate from Gadjah Mada University (UGM) in Yogyakarta. “And I think family is an important factor to support women’s careers.”

“I hope someday I could have a partner who would support my career,” she says. “As far as I know, there is no requirement that bars women from taking part in job promotion.”

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