Cracks In The Glass Ceiling

Many remarkable women throughout history have paved the way for female leaders by breaking down the metaphorical glass ceiling in numerous fields, including politics and business. Because of these women’s efforts, we can see a global increase in the number of female leaders, ranging from politicians and community leaders to executives and entrepreneurs. However, the works is not done yet because it’s still a relatively small group of women who hold leadership roles.

Presently, we have 15 female world leaders currently in office, making that the most the world has had in almost two decades. Eight of these women are serving as her country’s first woman in power. However, even with this progress, a study done by the World Economic Forum reveals that these women still represent less than 10 percent of the 193 UN member states, even though the number of current female leaders--excluding monarchs and figurehead leaders--has more than doubled since 2000.

In the business world, women today hold 25 percent of senior management roles globally. That’s only one percent up from last year’s report done by Grant Thornton. The United States, in particular, has not changed from the previous year with 23 percent of senior roles held by women and 31 percent of women in businesses without senior positions. Fortunately, this doesn’t apply to female entrepreneurs who now make up a rocking 40 percent of new entrepreneurs in the United States, making it the highest percentage since 1996. Kudos to that!

Despite these slight increases in leadership roles for women, we still find scarcity in women rising up to more senior positions. The problem is gender inequality leads to discrimination of pay and parental leave, all of which play a role in the slow growth of female leadership.

Gender diversity in the boardrooms within some of the world’s largest companies is advancing; however, the average seats held by women is 18.5 percent as of 2016 compared to 15.2 percent in 2014. In other words, the representation of women on boards globally is increasing by about 1.6 percent a year. At that pace, gender parity is looking to be roughly 20 years away when it comes to boardroom diversity.

Despite the increase of gender diversity in boardrooms, we still have issues of sexual harassment and gender bias being apparent in some companies. These issues not only hinder women from advancing at the company she works for, but bring up more unanswered questions on how to stop this bias when it comes to female employees who work in typically male-dominated fields.

When it comes to closing the gender pay gap, globally we are still very far from it, based on the current rate of progress. In a Women in Work Index report, the average working woman in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) is still earning 16 percent less than her male counterpart despite being more qualified. Inequality at its finest.

On the other hand, parental leave, especially for new mothers, has seen improvement globally. However, it does have its pros and cons depending on which country you live in. Ariane Hegewisch, program director for employment and earnings at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research in Washington, believes that parental leave policies that extend a year or two set women back professionally, more likely than not.  According to Hegewisch, these parental policies seem “to slow down both women’s career advancement and labor force participation.”

Photo by Priyanka Ramesh

In Hegewisch’s native Germany, the parental leave policy allows women to take off as much as three years per child with partial pay. Seventy-three percent of German women return to the workforce after their maternity leave; however, nearly half of them end up working part-time, earning less and slowly advancing in the ranks, if at all. In contrast, countries like the United States, where most employees don’t get any parental leave (and if they do, it’s called sick leave), could use an extension. If President Donald Trump keeps his campaign trail promise on maternity leave (new mothers will get six weeks with pay), the United States will join the rest of the industrialized world on this aspect of parental leave.

It seems the global rise of female leaders is improving with time. Gender parity in certain areas is nowhere in the immediate future (we’re looking at nearly a century away for closing the pay gap alone), but the growth is there, slowly but surely. Despite this pace, we have seen many incredibly driven women step up to the plate and take charge in her respective field. The question left unanswered is, how do we ignite this ember within future world leaders and decision-makers and get them started early?

This article is the first of our two-part Cultivating Women Leaders series. Stay tuned for the next article discussing the ways we can encourage women to start getting involved and the resources they can use to become one of the world’s decision-makers today.

By: Shanice Perriatt