Female Leadership and Gender Equality

“I never pay attention to age or gender. There are just too many other more important things to consider.” (Martha Stewart, Founder, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia).

If everyone thought like Martha Stewart, we wouldn´t need any further discussions about the state of female leadership or about its future. But in reality, we are far from gender equality in leadership worldwide.

Currently, only a good four percent of all Fortune 500 CEO´s are female. This is, however, an increase from the two percent in 2007.

How can this be explained? According to some research/ers, women seeking leadership roles face persistent and pervasive barriers, including gender bias in leadership opportunities, gender inequalities in family responsibilities, inflexibility in workplace structures, and inadequacies in social policies. (Kellerman, B. and Rhode, D.L. 2007).

There is, however, evidence of strong female leadership in history. The eldest proof of female leadership comes from Egypt: Queen Cleopatra, who reigned 51-30 BC, was not the only Egyptian female pharaoh, but the last and probably the best known. She first ruled jointly with her father and later with her brothers, but became eventually a sole ruler.

Other strong female leaders throughout history are Joan of Arc (leader of the French Army 1412-1431), Isabella I of Castile (Queen of Spain 1451-1504), Catherine de Medici (Queen of France 1519-1589), Mary Queen of Scots (1542-1587), Elizabeth I (Queen of England 1533-1603), Amina (Nigerian Queen 1560-1610), Mbande Nzinga (Angolan Queen 1582-1663), Catherine the Great (Empress of Russia 1729-1796), Victoria (Queen of England 1819-1901), Tsu-hsi (Empress of China 1835-1908), Liliuokalani (Last Monarch of Hawaii 1838-1917), Golda Meir (Prime Minister of Israel 1898-1978), Indira Gandhi (Prime Minister of India 1917-1984), and Margaret Thatcher (Prime Minister of England 1979-1990). (http://www.womeninworldhistory.com/rulers.html 20.10.2013).

Many of these women were born into monarch families and thus did not have to work their way to influential and powerful positions.

Today, the number of powerful women across the world is larger than ever. The most powerful woman, according to Forbes´ ranking, is Germany´s Chancellor Angela Merkel (http://www.forbes.com/power-women/#page:1_sort:0_direction:asc_search: 20.10.2013), followed by Dilma Rousseff, President of Brazil, Melinda Gates, Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton, Sheryl Sandberg and many others. It is interesting that so many of the 100 most powerful women worldwide are actors, entrepreneurs and musicians, including Beyonce Knowles, Lady Gaga, Angelina Jolie, Oprah Winfrey and J.K. Rowling.

In the Nordic countries, the proportion of female leaders is higher than in most other parts of the world. Why?

Gender equality is at core of the Nordic identity. We share many common features simultaneously with varying gender equality policies. To enhance gender equality in the Nordic region, the Nordic countries share and learn from each other´s experiences through political discussions and test most effective strategies in order to achieve common goals.

Despite of decades of work in this sector, the labor market and educational sector in the Nordic countries remain more or less gender divided, characterized by men still holding most leading positions, and women having the main responsibility on the home front. Prostitution and (domestic) violence against women and children still remain two major unsolved problems. (http://www.norden.org/en/about-nordic-co-operation/areas-of-co-operation/gender-equality/gender-equality-in-the-nordic-countries 20.10.2013).

Finland was the third country in the world to grant women the right to vote in 1906. Finland also had a female president for twelve years (2000-2012), Tarja Halonen, who was re-elected in 2006. Today, 85 of the 200 seats (42,5 %) in Finnish parliament are occupied by women. Nine of 19 ministers are female.

In Finland, the number of women in leadership and management roles has grown in the past years in both private and public sectors. Women are also higher educated than men. In some industries, however, the proportion of women is clearly smaller, and there is a tendency of a higher ratio of women leaders in industries already dominated by women. Women leaders are on the average higher educated than their male counterparts. On a European level, Finland has one of the highest numbers of female leaders. In the number of female c-level executives, however, Finland ranks as the third last country in whole Europe.

On a European level, women account for about a third of all director and chief executive roles. In whole Europe, about 30 per cent of all public companies have one or several women at executive group level, compared to 90 per cent in the United States. In the past year, the number of women in board´s has slightly grown in the past years. The European Commission has appealed to European firms in order to speed up the change. Some European countries, e.g. Norway, use contingencies for board members. Although these contingencies have increased the number of women as board members in Norway, the number of women in middle management or at executive level remains the same. Of all board members in Europe only about 12 per cent are female. In Finland and Sweden the same number is about 26 per cent. In Finland this can perhaps be explained by a corporate governance recommendation from 2010 according to which a company board must be represented by both genders. This CG recommendation has led to an increase in the amount of firms in Finland that have both genders represented on board level, from 50 to 80 per cent.

Board members are, however, selected according to knowledge, competence and experience – not by gender. Board members are expected to have deep knowledge in their field of business and experience from different operative roles, usually gained through leadership and management roles in that specific organization. Thus, the more women represented in an industry – the more women in leadership roles. Equality improves work welfare and advances productivity. (http://www.ek.fi/ek/fi/tyomarkkinat_ym/tyoelama/tasa_arvo/naiset_miehet/naisten_osuus_johtotehtavissa.php 20.10.2013).

As stated by UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngucka on October 18th 2013 in New York, women´s leadership is central to peacebuilding. (http://www.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2013/10/ed-speech-on-women-peace-security 20.10.2013).

UN Women is the leading organization promoting gender equality, women´s rights and women´s empowerment. Its Sustainable Development Goals addresses following three target areas of gender equality, women’s rights and women’s empowerment:

–          Freedom from violence against women and girls

–          Gender equality in the distribution of capabilities – knowledge, good health, sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights of women and adolescent girls; and access to resources and opportunities, including land, decent work and equal pay to build women’s economic and social security.

–          Gender equality in decision-making power in public and private institutions, in national parliaments and local councils, the media and civil society, in the management and governance of firms, and in families and communities. (http://www.unwomen.org/~/link.aspx?_id=981A49DCB34B44F1A84238A1E02B6440&_z=z 20.10.2013.)

Violence, both physical and psychological, is the most comprehensive abuse of human rights, taking place in all countries globally. One third of all women worldwide have experienced either physical or psychological (or both) violence at some point in their lives.

“Violence against women and girls tend to increase at times of crisis and instability, notably during and after periods of upheaval and displacement associated with armed conflict and natural disasters, but also when people are dealing with uncertainty. There can be increased domestic violence when men are unemployed, even if (sometimes especially if) women are bringing in income. Insecurity that results from high levels of organized crime in societies may also be associated with increased levels of violence against women or higher rates of femicide. In some situations of armed conflict, violence against women is widespread and systematic – for instance, where forms of sexual violence such as rape, forced prostitution, or sex trafficking are used by armed groups as a tactic of warfare to terrorize or displace civilians or to benefit parties to the conflict”. (http://www.unwomen.org/~/media/Headquarters/Attachments/Sections/Library/Publications/2013/10/UN%20Women%20post-2015%20position%20paper%20pdf.pdf 20.10.2013).

More about these important issues in UN Women´s publication “A transformative stand-alone goal on achieving gender equality, women’s rights and women’s empowerment: Imperatives and key components” (http://www.unwomen.org/~/link.aspx?_id=981A49DCB34B44F1A84238A1E02B6440&_z=z 20.10.2013).

What are your thoughts about female leadership and gender equality?

How are these issues dealt with in your country?

One thought on “Female Leadership and Gender Equality

  1. Thoughtful and restrained, where there is a sense you perhaps want to scream out to get people to take notice, because they need to. I am totally behind you that women’s influence can positively impact peace building, but it seems this is seldom if ever facilitated or recognised publicly . Even in advanced democracies like ours, achieving genuine gender equality seems as remote and transient as it ever did in spite of nominal gains in the boardroom and in politics.
    I think we have to hand the mantle of responsibility to generation Y who are more connected globally than any generation, having grown up in the social media era, trusting they fulfil the hopes and desires of their forebears, believing that the key to making lasting gains in equality comes from education and ensuring girls across the globe have the freedom of choice as well as the right to be educated.

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