By Ray Williams, March 8, 2019



International Women’s Day is celebrated annually, and provides an opportunity to both celebrate the important role that women play in the world as well as assess the degree to which gender equality has advanced.

While there are many individual accomplishments to celebrate the overall picture is still not rosy, particularly in the U.S. The glass ceiling is still shatterproof.


Gender Equality Globally


The Global Gender Gap Report 2018 by the World Economic Forum is a framework for capturing the magnitude of gender-based disparities and tracking their progress over time. This year’s edition of the report benchmarks 149 countries on their progress towards gender parity on a scale from 0 (disparity) to 1 (parity) across four thematic dimensions—the subindexes Economic Participation and Opportunity, Educational Attainment, Health and Survival, and Political Empowerment—and provides country rankings that allow for effective comparisons across and within regions and income groups. The rankings are designed to create global awareness of the challenges posed by gender gaps, and the opportunities created by reducing them.




Among the 2018 report’s key findings are:

  • Globally, the average (population-weighted) distance completed to parity is at 68.0%, which is a marginal improvement over last year. In other words, to date there is still a 32.0% average gender gap that remains to be closed. The directionally positive average trend registered this year is supported by improvements in 89 of the 144 countries covered both this year and last year.
  • Across the four subindexes, on average, the largest gender disparity is on Political Empowerment, which today maintains a gap of 77.1%. The Economic Participation and Opportunity gap is the second-largest at 41.9%, while the Educational Attainment and Health and Survival gaps are significantly lower at 4.4% and 4.6%, respectively. Among them, on average, only the Economic Participation and Opportunity gap has slightly reduced since last year.
  • When it comes to political and economic leadership, the world still has a long way to go. Across the 149 countries assessed, there are just 17 that currently have women as heads of state, while, on average, just 18% of ministers and 24% of parliamentarians globally are women.
  • Projecting current trends into the future, the overall global gender gap will close in 108 years across the 106 countries covered since the first edition of the report. The most challenging gender gaps to close are the economic and political empowerment dimensions, which will take 202 and 107 years to close respectively.
  • Remarkably, gender parity in Western countries has slightly reduced, while the progress is ongoing, on average, elsewhere. The most gender-equal country to date is Iceland. It has closed over 85% of its overall gender gap. Iceland is followed by Norway (83.5%), Sweden and Finland (82.2%). Although dominated by Nordic countries, the top ten also features a Latin American country (Nicaragua, 5th), two Sub-Saharan African Countries (Rwanda, 6th, and Namibia, 10th) and a country from East Asia (Philippines (8th). The top ten is completed by New Zealand (7th) and Ireland (9th).

In an article I wrote in the Financial Post entitled “What’s Happened to the Glass Ceiling,” I said, “Call it a glass ceiling, glass wall or a glass floor—there is still a barrier blocking senior women leaders in organizations. High-powered executive and professional women are increasingly opting out of, being bypassed, or otherwise disappearing from the professional workforce. While this exists, true diversity in organizations will not happen.”

New research from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business finds while there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that sexism has prevented many talented women from achieving their full potential at work, there are factors beyond gender discrimination in the workplace that are holding women back.

In the working paper, “The Glass Ceiling,” Bertrand reviews the extensive literature surrounding the glass ceiling, including her own work, and finds three key reasons why the glass ceiling persists in excluding women from top-paying jobs.

  • Although women have surpassed men in educational attainment, they are vastly underrepresented in top-paying jobs. About 40 percent of women born in America in 1985 hold college degrees, compared to just under 30 percent of men—yet women’s educational advantage hasn’t led to higher pay.
  • Psychological differences between men and women could account for up to 10 percent of the pay gap. Much of the existing research concludes that women are more risk-averse than men are. Whether men and women are born with different attitudes toward risk or the differences are taught, understanding the role of nature versus nurture is key to closing the gap.
  • The demands for child care, housework and other life chores outside of work fall more heavily on women than on men. Higher paying occupations are more inflexible and require more time commitment. Women have a harder time with this inflexibility because they remain disproportionately responsible for taking care of the home, including raising children. Bertrand’s research has also found that when wives earn more than their husbands do, it is difficult on the relationship, and the marriage is more likely to be unhappy or end in divorce.

There is clear evidence that the situation for women in North America, but particularly in the U.S. is actually deteriorating according to research data from the workplace, and the clear ultra conservative agenda of right-wing political groups in the U.S. that are attacking women’s rights.

Women hold just 26 percent of executive-level positions in S&P 500 companies — and sadly that is no accident, according to a new study by researchers in the University at Buffalo School of Management. The study, in Personnel Psychology, found that, on average, men are more likely than women to emerge as leaders.

The research team — led by doctoral student Katie Badura and Emily Grijalva, PhD, assistant professor of organization and human resources in the UB School of Management — aggregated 59 years of research, encompassing more than 19,000 participants and 136 studies from lab, business and classroom settings.

They discovered that although the gender gap has narrowed in recent decades, it still persists. “As a society, we’ve made progress toward gender equality, but clearly we’re not quite there,” Badura says. “Our results are consistent with the struggle many organizations face today to increase diversity in their leadership teams.”

The researchers primarily attribute the gender gap to societal pressures that contribute to gender differences in personality traits. For example, men tend to be more assertive and dominant, whereas women tend to be more communal, cooperative and nurturing. As a result, men are more likely to participate and voice their opinions during group discussions, and be perceived by others as leaderlike.

“We found showing sensitivity and concern for others — stereotypically feminine traits — made someone less likely to be seen as a leader,” Grijalva says. “However, it’s those same characteristics that make leaders effective. Thus, because of this unconscious bias against communal traits, organizations may unintentionally select the wrong people for leadership roles, choosing individuals who are loud and confident but lack the ability to support their followers’ development and success.”

While group size and participants’ ages did not affect the gender gap, the study found the length of time participants spent together was an important factor in whether men or women emerged as leaders. The longer a group spent together, the less gender influenced who emerged as the group’s leader.

“The gender gap was strongest during the first 20 minutes people were together, similar to an initial job interview, but weakened after more than one interaction,” Grijalva says. “During the hiring process, organizations should conduct multiple interviews to reduce gender bias and ensure they’re hiring the best applicant.”

For managers, the researchers suggest promoting the value of communal behaviors in performance evaluations, prompting quieter individuals to share their ideas and being mindful of any unconscious biases you or your staff may have.

“In the Obama White House, female staffers adopted a strategy of amplifying one another’s comments during meetings and giving credit to the individual who said it first, to ensure that women’s voices were being heard,” Badura says. “Tactics like this help the most qualified individuals stand out and emerge into leadership roles — regardless of gender.”

Justin Wolfer, writing in the New York Times , makes the point that “fewer large companies are run by women than by men named John, a sure indicator that the glass celling remains firmly in place in corporate America.”

Michele Fabrizi, writing in Forbes, examined the issue of women on Boards of Directors in the U.S., concluding the following:

  • 22% of seats on the boards of Fortune 500 companies are held by women. No doubt, boards benefit from a range of viewpoints represented by differing backgrounds, life experiences and ages. But, it has been shown that there are added benefits from gender diversity.
  • Research previously reported by Catalyst found a more than 40% greater return on sales and a more than 50% greater return on equity when comparing the Fortune 500 companies with the greatest percentage of women on their boards to the ones with the least.
  • In Europe, legislation mandates the percentage of women directors, and it is changing the face of European boardrooms. Typically, these laws require that boards have 30%-40% gender diversity.

A 2015 Ernest & Young report examining gender composition on boards and in the senior executive positions showed that women as a percentage of new board members at S&P 1500 companies in 2014 was still only 14% and the percentage of board seats held by women since 2006 has risen only from 11% to 16%. In addition, the percentage of women occupying the role of CEO in the S&P 1500 companies in 2014 was only 4% and that of CFO, 10%.


Previous research from a 2011 Grant Thornton International Business Report found that women now hold 20% of senior management positions globally, a decline from 24% in 2009, and also found that the percentage of organizations that have no women in senior management has risen to 38% in 2011 from 35% in 2009. Only 16% of women in G7 countries held senior roles while 27% in Asia-Pacific did so, with increasing numbers in Hong Kong and Thailand. Globally, only 8% of companies had female CEOs, and in the U.S. only 3.6% of Fortune 500 companies. In contrast in Asian economies, Thailand had 30%, China 19% and Taiwan 18%.

A new report in the Economist,shows that the Nordic countries of Finland, Sweden and Norway still score the highest of 28 countries in the Economist’s index for gender equality with Canada ranking 11th and the U.S. ranking 18th.



A 2018 study of women in the workplace by McKinsey & Co., concluded the following:

  • “The proportion of women at every level in corporate America has hardly changed. Progress isn’t just slow. It’s stalled.”
  • “Now companies need to take more decisive action. This starts with treating gender diversity like the business priority it is, from setting targets to holding leaders accountable for results. It requires closing gender gaps in hiring and promotions, especially early in the pipeline when women are most often overlooked. And it means taking bolder steps to create a respectful and inclusive culture so women—and all employees—feel safe and supported at work.”
  • “Since 2015, the first year of this study, corporate America has made almost no progress improving women’s representation. Women are underrepresented at every level, and women of color are the most underrepresented group of all, lagging behind white men, men of color, and white women.”
  • “If companies continue to hire and promote women to manager at current rates, the number of women in management will increase by just one percentage point over the next ten years.”
  • “Sexual harassment continues to pervade the workplace. Thirty-five percent of women in corporate America experience sexual harassment at some point in their careers, from hearing sexist jokes to being touched in a sexual way.”

A Stanford University 2018 report on gender equality concluded that advances in gender equality in the United States has stalled. “Stereotypes and unconscious biases are getting in the way of faster social change,” according to Shelley Correll, head of the Clayman Institute for Gender Research and an author of one of the chapters in the report. “We still cling to the view that men and women are fundamentally different in interests and skills,” Correll said. This contributes to segregation both because “employers discriminate on the basis of these beliefs and workers sort themselves into gender-conforming roles,” Correll said.



The U.S. in particular is taking steps backwards with respect to gender equality. In the field of law, women are more than 50% of the law students, but less than 25% of law firm partners, federal judges, and law school deans. In 2012, women are expected to earn 63% of master’s degrees and 54% of doctoral and professional degrees, but comprise only 20% of full university professors and only 25% of college presidents. Internationally, the U.S. ranks 85th in the world in its share of women in national legislative bodies. Of the largest 100 cities in the U.S., only 9% have female mayors. Various studies have shown that women have made only incremental progress at the highest levels of Fortune 500 companies and the World Economic Forum ranked the U.S. 19th and Canada 20th respectively among 132 countries, in stark contrast to significantly larger numbers in Europe, Asia and South America.

Pew Center study released in May, 2013 revealed that working mothers are the sole or primary provider in a record 40% of U.S. households. Women still don’t have equal pay in many jurisdictions, and the standard of living for the middle class and the poor continues to decline.

A Pew Center Global Attitudes Project found that 75% of respondents in the U.S. and 80% in Canada believe that women make equally good political leaders, and the numbers were much higher and Europe, Asia and parts of South America. Another Pew Center study, Social and Demographic Survey found women leaders possessed more leadership traits of honesty, intelligence, compassion and creativity than men, whereas men scored higher only in decisiveness.

Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman, authors of The Inspiring Leader: Unlocking the Secrets of How Extraordinary Leaders Activate, and authors of an article in the Harvard Business Reviewon the subject said, “based on their 2012 research study of 7,280 leaders in organizations, found that in 12 of the 16 categories of leadership traits, women were rated higher than men, including areas that are traditionally thought of as male strengths (eg: drive for results; taking initiative). Other studies by the Harvard Business School and Catalyst Corporation found that large companies with the highest proportions of women in senior management significantly outperformed those with the lowest proportion in terms of return on investment.

So what are we to conclude and do about the thickening glass ceiling? Harvard’s Rosabeth Moss Kanter and Robin Ely argue that a critical mass of women in senior leadership and on boards is required, and that may mean passing legislation as Norway has done, required at least 40% female board members.

A 2011 McKinsey and Company study which reviewed over 100 existing research studies on the subject and interviewing over 2,800 male and female leaders, concluded that there were four problems that must be overcome: structural-the lack of role models for women, exclusion from informal networks, and absence of sponsors; lifestyle issues-women who also value family life and are not prepared to commit to an executive’s 24/7 working lifestyle; imbedded institutional mindsets—entrenched beliefs held by male managers that women can’t handle leadership jobs; and imbedded individual mindsets that indicate that women are less satisfied with careers than men.

Clearly, leaders in our private and public organizations, and politicians need to take note of this growing problem in North America, particularly the U.S. Perhaps a clue to the present start and stop progress is given by feminist movement pioneer Gloria Steinem: “Classically speaking, resistance to change comes at two points. The first is right at the beginning, when you break the rules and people say, No, women can’t do that. And the second comes when you reach a critical mass, as if the other group might have great influence, or, in the case of women, might actually outnumber them. We’re now in the second stage of resistance.”

Recent research from Concordia University by Steven Applebaum shows that even though women may actually be better suited than men to hold leadership positions, only 3% of top executives among Fortune 500 firms are women. He says that’s because “women are still perceived as inferior leaders.” He goes to say “This ill-conceived notion needs to change—and fast. At the current rate, we won’t see gender equality in the boardroom until 2081.”

In an article in the Harvard Business Review by Hermina Ibarra, Robin Ely and Deborah Kolb, contend companies need to take additional action by educating men and women about second-generation bias; have women internalize a leadership identity; and develop a sense of purpose. Second-   generation bias is defined as a “paucity of role models for women, gendered career paths and gendered work, women’s lack of access to networks and sponsors, and leadership being defined in masculine characteristics.”

In a new book, The Athena Doctrine, co-authors Michael D’Antonio and John Gerzema reported their research of 64,000 people in 13 diverse countries in the Americas, Europe and Asia that indicate widespread dissatisfaction with skills and competencies that are perceived as more feminine. In particular, that view was shared by nearly 80% of the millennial generation (both men and women)–most notably in highly masculine societies like Brazil, South Korea, Japan and India. Two-thirds of survey respondents felt that “the world would be a better place if men thought more like women.

Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, in his article in the Harvard Business Review,argues “So long as we continue to associate leadership with masculine features, we can expect female leaders to be evaluated more negatively even when their performance is higher than that of their male counterparts, and even when those who evaluate them are women.”

He says “While overall gender differences in leadership effectiveness are generally non-existent, meta-analytic studies show that men tend to perform better when the focus is on managing tasks, while women tend to perform better when the focus is on managing people, which includes attending to people’s attitudes, values, and motivation.”

Until organizations change the focus to values and behavior that value cooperation, collaboration, compassion and emotional intelligence, there’s not much value in changing leaders selection processes: “Until this is fixed, there is not much benefit in improving our leader selection process. Even if we were using a data-driven system that objectively selected leaders based on their actual potential – paying attention to competence, humility, and integrity rather than confidence, charisma, and narcissism – it wouldn’t do much good if we proceeded to judge the performance of those same leaders via subjective, prejudiced, or biased human opinions.”

He goes on to say that if we select and train women who closely emulate the male stereotype of leader—ones that“promote themselves more, take credit for other people’s achievements, blame others for their own mistakes, and focus on their own personal career interests, as opposed to the welfare of their teams or organization, we may end up increasing the representation of women in leadership without increasing the quality of our leaders.”

Clearly, Americans (and Canadians) should be concerned about the slow progress, if not not outright stalling of efforts for gender equality in the workplace, something that needs to be addressed proactively by political and business leaders.


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