A lesson from Latvia on how to break through the glass ceiling

Baltic state's work culture offers an alternative model to traditional male hierarchy

Kunal Dutta@kunaldutta
Monday 08 March 2010 03:18

For years it has burnished a reputation as Eastern Europe's destination of choice for stag weekends, drawing thousands of revellers in search of cheap lager, pretty girls and Kalashnikov-shooting activities.

But Latvia is fast carving a new identity as a corporate hotbed in which a rising female workforce is intrinsically programmed to thrive. A new book claims that 41 per cent of the country's executives are women, the largest proportion in Europe and six percentage points more than in the UK. The figure reflects a management style pervasive in Latvia that an author argues is fuelling the success of women in the workplace .

"In Britain there is still a glass ceiling in relation to what many women can achieve. A major factor holding them back are job criteria rooted in male-typical rather than female-typical behaviours," says Gloria Moss, author of Profiting from Diversity: The Business Advantages and the Obstacles to Achieving Diversity. "In Latvia, there is an acceptance that people-focused styles of transformational management bring significant benefits."

The consensus, she argues, is that Latvia offers fewer barriers to success for women, thanks to their penchant for "transformational management", which is focused on amplifying the individual talents of a workforce, fostering close communication and empowering individuals to perform in structures that are largely meritocratic.

The "more male" alternative, she says, is "transactional management", which reflects a more traditional power structure that fosters top-down leadership, and is part of the reason why certain firms are unable to break out of a male-dominated workforce.

The book claims that Latvia offers a "rare glimpse of how women manage when freed of the constraints of being a minority". In addition to achieving higher levels of university enrolment and further education than their male counterparts, Latvian women occupy some of the highest positions in the country. The author argues today, on International Women's Day, that Latvia boasts "a legacy of strong women" with folklore punctuated by powerful women, and "families in which men were not at the apex". "This is ... indicative of a pervasive culture in Latvian business," says Ms Moss. "With women approaching parity in the Latvian workforce, transformational relationships are lived and practised almost unconsciously" she says. "This influences selection criteria and unconsciously becomes a self-replicating mindset that fosters female success."

Famous "transformational" female managers include Jacqueline Gold, the founder and chief executive of Ann Summers, whose women-only parties business was one of the enduring business successes of the past two decades. Other leading women include Shaa Wasmund, online entrepreneur and the founder of mykindaplace.com, and Indra Nooyi, the chief executive of Pepsi. Ms Moss says: "These are people with a strong sense of vision, with skills to communicate and empower as well as take a day-to-day interest in the individuals within a business."

'Transformational' managers: UK success stories


Perturbed by the sleaziness of the sex industry, Jacqueline Gold's visit to a Tupperware party in 1981 alerted her to the potential of selling lingerie and sex toys to women within their homes. She launched the Ann Summers Party Plan, a home marketing plan with a strict "no men allowed" policy, which has since entered British culture. With an estimated turnover of £117m in 2008, the Ann Summers Group ranks as one of the most successful and profitable private companies in Britain.


Founder and Chief Executive, Smarta. Selling her share of Mykindaplace, an online magazine and social network she founded in 2000, for several million in 2006, Wasmund set up Smarta, a networking and advice site for small businesses.


One of the first and few dot com millionaires, Martha Lane Fox co-founded and floated a £700m company, lastminute.com, with 1,400 employees, survived the dotcom boom and bust, and has come out the other side with £30m.

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