Women in leadership: Are there lessons for the UK from other nations?

Shockingly, a 2014 Grant Thornton report shows that the 24 per cent global average has remained “unchanged from 2013, and even from 2007. This suggests that the proportion of women in senior management has returned to its ‘natural level’ following the financial crisis during which women were disproportionately hit.”

So what have we truly accomplished? Have we really, as EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding suggests, seen “the first cracks in the glass ceiling?”

2010 saw the launch of the 30% Club. This was followed by a goal set by the Mervyn Davies 2011 review. It suggested that the UK should aim to have 25 per cent of women on boards by 2015.

In 2013, the European Parliament also voted to back a proposed law to “improve gender balance.” This legislation would mean that by 2020, 40 per cent of non-executive directors would have to be women. Of course, SMEs were excluded from the directive. This ruling is currently pending.

According to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), the representation of women rose from 12.5 per cent in 2011 to 20.7 per cent in 2014. And a Cranfield International Centre report revealed that only 24 more females were needed on FTSE 100 boards int order to reach that target.

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Being so far down the ranks, however, maybe taking a look at the way other countries have tackled the issue and where they stand on the global scale can help the UK find other solutions.

Does Australia fare any better? The country ousted their first female prime minister Julia Gillard for, well, being a woman after accusing her of sexism.

“I think as a nation, and this is also true of countries like the UK… we’ve not yet culturally embraced women and leadership,” said Gillard in an interview when she was asked how Australian women were faring. “Somehow we’re finding it difficult to correlate female leaders and likeability.”

Arguably, a lot can be learnt from them though.

Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD) figures suggest that the number of boards with no women have dropped from 87 to 42. In fact, the percentage of women has nearly doubled from its 10.7 per cent in 2010 to its current 18.3 per cent.

This is partially due to the AICD’s diversity initiative. In 2011, all company directors contributed to the development of a new ASX reporting regime and diversity policy.

And its chairmen mentoring and board diversity scholarship programmes have ushered many female directors into such appointments.

In certain areas France also seems to be outperforming the UK. A 2011 bill, called the Zimmermann Copé, gave companies a three year deadline to increase female board positions to 20 per cent. This is set to rise to 40 per cent by 2017.

In June 2014 it was found that 30 per cent of directors on boards, including the CAC 40, were women. This blew the Down Jones 30, with 23.5 per cent, and the FTSE 100, with 22 per cent at the time, out of the water.

In fact, in a published report, ‘Balanced Reputation between Men and Women in Business Law: The French Quota System to the Test of EU Legislation‘, it said: “This article suggests that the French approach is wide reaching in its coverage of executive as well as non-executive directors and, as such, goes further than the proposed EU directive and has the potential to be a role model within the EU.”

And who can forget Norway, the country who set quotas into motion. When the country called for a 40 per cent quota in 2003, the world watched with bated breath to find out whether this would lead to the appointment of unqualified directors.

Women’s wages also come close to men’s in Norway, even if it’s still at 80 per cent.

But it’s one of the world’s poorest country’s that lead the equality ranking. Burundi, where four out of five people live below the poverty line, is the top country in women’s pay, earning 83 per cent of salaries of men in the same jobs.

And, believe it or not, Denmark is the only place where women earn on average more than men. Sure it’s only a two per cent difference, but that’s a great statistic when it comes to increasing a female’s chances of leadership. This is largely because many women get better paid jobs than men. But when both genders do the same job, a woman will only earn 71 per cent of what a man makes.

At the core of it all, let’s face the fact that although we put Norway on a pedestal, not one of its large cap companies has a female CEO. 

“The pressure to increase women’s representation was applied to all political parties in Scandinavia,” said Professor Drude Dahlerup of Stockholm University. This has led to an encouraging 40 per cent quota, but beyond that, women fall short.

Other countries that have gone on to implement corporate gender quotas perform in a similar manner. Disappointingly, Spain (22 per cent), Germany (14 per cent), and Switzerland (13 per cent) have some of the lowest proportions of women in senior management roles in the world. All despite policy involving the gender gap.

Even in bigger countries such as the US, things aren’t any better. Although women comprise nearly half of the workforce, Catalyst research found that only 14.3 per cent hold top executive office positions at Fortune 500 Companies. Only 20 per cent of senior management roles are held by women. 

In the end, is that all that legislation can afford us?

Read more about what we can learn from BRICS countries.

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