The demand for higher qualifications for the same job from a woman than from a man, because of prejudice and general practice, means that fewer top opportunities are open to women. Women with high qualifications often have to accept lower positions with less chance of responsibility and promotion than a man of the same calibre. Promotion opportunities through retraining programmes which are open to men, are not to women on an equal basis. As competition among women increases for lower positions, regarded as "women's work", the qualification requirements increase out of proportion with the requirements in the equivalent "men's work" sector.
In 1990, the 799 major companies in the USA had only 19 women in director or highest executive positions compared with 3,993 men. Women account for only 5% of American expatriate managers. Reasons for not sending women managers abroad include: women lack technical qualifications, they do not apply or have conflict with spouse's career and local prejudices against female managers. Although 60% of UK health service managers are female, only 18% are general managers. Only one of the 14 English regional health authorities and one of the 15 Scottish health boards is led by a woman (and none of the nine Welsh health authorities). In the Danish State Administration, women held less than 1.2% of positions in the highest wage classes (Directors and Permanent Under Secretaries), and only 7.6 of Head of Department positions. In Holland, the percentage of women in top management jobs in 1993 is 8%, and had been static for 10 years.
An early 1990s survey of sixty managers of US transnational corporations showed that they hesitate to select women for assignments abroad because of safety concerns, the hazards of travelling as well as loneliness and isolation, especially for single women.
A female cook in the British army, made redundant as an economy measure in 1994, applied for a job in the Royal Marines. She was turned down, because the RM do not accept women into its ranks. The European Court of Justice ruled in 1999 that, although employment decisions by the armed forces of EU member states are covered by the principle of equal treatment of men and women, implementing this principle also allows member states to exclude occupations for which sex is a determining factor. Consequently, a job in a commando unit can be for men only.
A professional woman, no matter how well-schooled, what her wage or how thick her portfolio, enters many business organizations with limited or no hope of reaching the top. Women executive collide with a "glass ceiling" of subtle discrimination, such as the favouring of those who have had foreign assignments or advanced business courses offered only to men.