An increasing part of that talent pool is female graduates. Since the 1990s, women started to outpace men in higher education participation and graduation rates in OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries. Women now account for rates of up to 65% of the enrolled population in countries like Poland, Sweden, and Brazil, or almost 60% of the population of master’s degrees programs in countries like the U.S. and Canada. Yet corporate boards and the executive levels of multinational organizations still lack female faces in their ranks.
Joseph Chamie, former director of the United Nations Population Division, has noted that “despite these educational gains, women continue to lag behind men in employment, income, business ownership, research, and politics. This pattern of inequality suggests that societal expectations and cultural norms regarding the appropriate roles for men and women, as well as inherent biological differences between the sexes, are limiting the benefits of women’s educational advantage.”
The World Economic Forum’s Gender Report estimates the rate of economic participation for women worldwide to be at less than two-thirds of men’s contribution.
Looking at the countries that are doing the best in terms of gender equality, it is difficult to overlook the success of Scandinavia. Although differences exist, the salary gaps between men and women are at the lowest level in the world in countries such as Iceland, Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. Therefore, Scandinavia is often described as a role model for other countries. These countries certainly haven’t found all the answers and many of their approaches cannot easily be adopted as-is in other regions of the world, but there are certain elements worth examining.
History, Religion, and Education
Historically, Nordic countries have long been concerned about equal rights, giving women the right to vote before many other nations (Sweden in 1919, Norway in 1913, Iceland and Denmark in 1915, Finland in 1906). Informal pressure to increase women’s participation in political parties has led to 40% female participation in Scandinavia (Professor Dahlerup, Stockholm University), the largest in the world.
Furthermore, Sweden made education for boys and girls compulsory as early as 1842. Researchers found a strong relationship between literacy rate and egalitarianism, meaning that the more literate society is, the more egalitarian it is likely to be.
The Lutheran churches of Scandinavian countries also contributed to concern about gender equality, viewing certain individual rights as inherent. Female priests have been allowed since the middle of the 20th century. The Church of Sweden, a Lutheran church, has a female archbishop, providing a female role model in a traditionally patriarchal part of society.
Cultural Values and Inclusive Leadership
These modern Nordic social democratic states emphasize a leadership style that reflects their cultural norms of honesty, egalitarianism, and consensus. Citizens’ expectation of their social and economic system includes access to free education, a social safety net that allows parents to work while raising a family, and decent pay. Strong trade unions are at work to promote gender equality.