From The  Economist  -  March  2016



Still a man's world?

Our index of the climate for working women now includes paternity leave



IT IS still common to see headlines announcing the first woman to occupy some important post or other. Asako Suzuki has just been appointed the first female board member at Honda, a Japanese carmaker. In January the Irish central bank appointed its first female deputy governor. And of course Hillary Clinton could become America's first female president. But such milestones may not be much of a guide to the opportunities women have to make progress in the workplace.


So, in 2013, we created a "glass-ceiling index", ranking countries by how good it is to be a working woman in each of them, to be published each year to mark International Women's Day (March 8th). Our index now covers 29 countries; our website has a full, interactive version of the adjacent chart. Besides taking into account such things as women's access to higher education, their labour-force participation, pay, business-school applications, representation in senior management and the cost of child care, this year we have added a new indicator: as well as measuring maternity-leave rights, we now include paternity leave.


Studies show that where new fathers take parental leave, mothers tend to return to the labour market, female employment is higher and the earnings gap between men and women is lower. Among countries in the OECD, a group mostly of rich countries, paid leave for new daddies generally remains short, averaging just eight weeks. Nine countries, America included, offer them none. Although they fare poorly on a number of other indicators, Japan and South Korea now offer the longest paternity leave in the OECD. In those two countries, fathers (and mothers) are entitled to more than 50 weeks' paid leave.


Under Japan's latest change to the law, in 2010, new mothers and fathers have 14 months from the birth in which to take up to a year's paid leave, as long as they both take it. The idea is that men have the same career gap as women, and the career slippage among women of childbearing age is reduced. But cultures are hard to change, and so far the uptake has been low.


Depending on nationality, new parents take home very different proportions of their usual pay while on leave. Turkey and Spain, for example, both offer 16 weeks' maternity leave, but in Spain new mothers receive 100% of salary whereas in Turkey it is just 66%. Our index takes this into account: it includes a "full-rate equivalent" leave entitlement for Turkey of 10.6 weeks, to reflect the pay difference.


Unsurprisingly, the Nordic countries-Iceland (a newcomer to our index), Norway, Sweden and Finland-come out top overall. In these countries, women are present in the labour force at similar rates to men. Finland has the largest share of women who have gone through higher education compared with men (49% of women have a tertiary degree, and 35% of men). Norway's gender wage-gap (6.3%) is less than half the OECD average (15.5%).


Women have 44% of seats on listed-company boards in Iceland; strong representation in Scandinavian boardrooms is common thanks to quotas. Norway and Iceland also have voluntary political-party quotas, as does Sweden where 44% of parliamentary seats are occupied by women, one of the highest rates in the world. Hungary ranks fifth, having the lowest gender wage gap, of 3.8%. Despite having few women on boards (11%) and in parliament 10%), Hungary has generous paid leave for mothers (71 weeks at 100% of recent pay) and low child-care costs.


At the bottom of the ranking are Japan, Turkey and South Korea, where men are more likely than women to have degrees, to be in the workplace and to hold senior positions. Their pay gap is also wide. In Japan and South Korea the favourable parental-leave system is mainly a response to their ageing populations and shrinking labour forces; but in other respects they are far behind the Nordic countries, whose commitment to sexual equality goes back a long way.


Even among better-ranked countries though, there is room for improvement. On average, across the OECD women are more likely to have a degree than men, but they are still less likely to be in the labour force and are paid significantly less. This is partly because of career choices (boys tend to choose things like engineering and computing; girls go for education, health care and welfare). But much of the difference also comes from child-bearing. Although the share of women on listed-company boards has increased since last year by 2.5 percentage points to 18.5%, women still hold less than a third of positions in senior management (a pipeline for board membership). Those that are in the higher echelons of management, according to the UN's International Labour Organization, are clustered in specific areas: human resources, public relations and communications management, and finance and administration.


Although American firms have fewer women on boards than European ones, according to MSCI, a financial-data firm, they are more likely to have a female CEO or chief financial officer-the top jobs that bring headlines. But MSCI also found that of the rich-world listed companies where the CEO is a woman, 58% had at least three others on their board. This suggests that once one woman breaks through the glass ceiling, others find it easier to follow. ■


WOMEN  ARE  CATCHING  UP;  SO  IT  SHOULD  INDEED  BE  EQUAL  PAY  FOR  EQUAL  WORK;  THE  JOB  SHOULD  "PAY"  BY  THE  JOB,  NOT  BY  THE  ONE  DOING  IT  -  Keith Hunt