Economist's 'Glass Ceiling Index' Shows U.S. Progress Has Stalled

By Steve Goldstein
Published: Monday, March 18, 2019 - 12:28pm
Updated: Wednesday, May 29, 2019 - 10:35am

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glass ceiling index chart
The Economist

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: Women around the world continue, in most cases, to be paid less than their male counterparts and have fewer options for career advancement. But progress has been made and momentum seemed to be building. However the latest “Glass Ceiling Index” released by the economist says any movement forward has been stalled with the exception of a few nations — and the U.S. isn't one of them. With me via Skype to talk more about what the index found is Roxana Willis, a statistician for the Economist. Roxana, the glass ceiling index has been around for seven years in one form or another, what is it specifically measuring?

ROXANA WILLIS: The general principle is to look at the working environment around the world for women. So at the moment we're creating 29 countries and we're looking at 10 different indicators associated with equal treatment at work. And in the latest index, we've seen very little progress in the past year. Some of the indicators that we cover, for instance the share of women in labor force, has barely moved around 64 percent while males is by 80 percent. The gender pay gap is still largely unchanged at around 14 percent. The share of women in management has flatlined since last year it's 32 percent. And that's important obviously because that's a pipeline for women in senior management and we've seen the share of women on company boards only slightly increase. That's partly due to the fact that there's a small share of seats on company boards that come available each year. But even so that has slowed. And yes just across all these measures we've seen very little movement.

GOLDSTEIN: So of the nations in the index, is there something that the nations that are doing a little bit better have in common and those that are doing worse have in common?

WILLIS: So definitely there's a big divergence between those at the top of the index and those at the bottom. The Nordic countries do well in the index though generally equality friendly places they help women to get into university and secure jobs. They also promote women into positions of management. They have quotas for women on boards for instance. And also in terms of in politics, some of the political parties have voluntary quotas as well. And they offer generous parental leave systems so they subsidize childcare and they also offer paid parental leave for both mothers and fathers. So the Nordic countries like Sweden Norway Iceland Finland [are] still definitely the best places to work if you're a woman. And at the bottom end of the table we've got Turkey, Japan and South Korea they have high gender wage gaps they, really have quite low labor force participation for women and they have really few women on boards for instance, in South Korea it's only 2 percent. So there are definitely cultural and societal norms playing a role here.

GOLDSTEIN: In the US has been a recently renewed battle for the Equal Rights Amendment which was introduced initially nearly half a century ago. So we're hearing more about it, is that counter-intuitive based on the numbers we're seeing are other countries really not, is there not really a push in other countries for this as well? Because, even on the index, obviously, the U.S. is not doing especially well but at least for a lot of people talking about it.

WILLIS: Yeah definitely. I think one thing that we've noticed in the in the U.S. is that there is some movement and some progress seems to be more at the state level rather than at the national level and this is what the index that, we're looking at, overall, what is the environment in the country as a whole. So for instance, last year California introduced quotas for women on boards of publicly traded companies. So that's — but that's just California so that wouldn't show up in our in our index. But, obviously that is progress. We've seen that countries to introduce quotas that, you know, Norway now has 40 percent women on boards. So we will see some movement there. But on the whole there's not legislation for helping women into work, especially in America for instance does not. America doesn't offer any maternity leave, which obviously would encourage new mothers to return to work or any paternity leave which increasingly a lot of the Scandinavian countries do offer.

GOLDSTEIN: How much of an influence is there based on who's leading a particular nation and how much of it is, sort of, the rank and file folks at the grassroots level?

WILLIS: I'd probably say it's a bit of both really. So you know a lot of the women's, progression for women, came from the grassroots. You know, strikes, women wanting more pay so they go on strike. At the same time, you have got a lot of women rising to the top jobs, so the more women that we see in higher positions the more women will put themselves forward to do those roles. It encourages women to progress in that sense. So it is important that we do have women prime ministers, women presidents, but also that we've got people at the lower end in the the grassroots fighting for their causes as well. And then the more women we have in positions of power, actually, they're more likely to change public policies that will promote equality in the workplace.

GOLDSTEIN: Can you talk a bit more about some of the policies generally, could be on specific nations could be just generally around the world, that could lead to getting out of this sort of stalled position where things would advance?

WILLIS: So last year, Iceland, which comes third in our index, made it illegal to pay men more than women. So employers have to show that they comply with national equality pay standards and if they fail to do so they will be fined. So that kind of legislation takes women's pay equality seriously and it will it will have an effect.

GOLDSTEIN: Roxana Willis is a statistician for the Economist. We've been talking about the publication's Glass Ceiling Index.

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