Corporate Eye

The Global Gender Gap Report


The fifth annual Global Gender Gap Report from the World Economic Forum (WEF) “assesses 134 countries on how well they divide resources and opportunities amongst male and female populations.” The report measures the gender inequality gap in four areas:

  • Economic participation and opportunity
  • Educational attainment
  • Political empowerment
  • Health and survival

Good news: The United States has finally broken into the Top 20, after hovering around 30 for the first four years of the report.

Bad news: The United Kingdom has tumbled from a ranking of 9 in 2006 to #15 this year.

Great story: The tiny Kingdom of Lesotho has advanced from #43 in 2006 to (drum roll, please) #8 in 2010.  Lesotho has just two million people and only a modest economy—but its literacy rate is among the highest in Africa.

More good news: Looking across the board at progress made since the first report, it turns out that gaps are closing in health and education, with current data showing that (in the 134 countries covered) 96% of health gaps and 93% of education gaps have been closed.

More bad news: Only 60% of economic participation gaps have been closed.

WEF also publishes a Corporate Gender Gap report, which is based on a survey of HR execs from 600 major employers in twenty countries, representing sixteen industries, and ranging in size from 1,000 to 30,000 employees.  The survey’s 25 questions assessed companies on:

  • representation of women within their establishments
  • the use of gender-equality practices such as measurement and target-setting, work-life balance policies and mentorship and training

The survey also gathered respondent opinions on:

  • the biggest barriers to women’s leadership
  • the probable effects of the economic downturn on women’s employment in their countries and industries.

The resulting report is not only informative but actually very interesting.  It provides detailed summaries of the findings by country and by industry.  From the report website you can download the whole report or a summary chapter.

High-level observations from report co-author Saadia Zahidi:  “The findings of the report are an alarm bell that the corporate world is not doing enough to achieve gender equality. While a certain set of companies in Scandinavia, the US and the UK are indeed leaders in integrating women, the idea that most corporations have become gender-balanced or women-friendly is still a myth. With this study, we are giving businesses a one-stop guide on what they need to do to close the corporate gender gap.”

My favorite factoid: Averaging all respondents, the top two “barriers to women’s rise to positions of senior leadership in your company” were identified as

  • General norms and cultural practices in your country
  • Masculine/patriarchal corporate culture

And amazingly enough—those were the top two choices in the US, and two of the top three in the UK.  Something to think about . . .

(That snow-covered landscape is the Afri-Ski resort in Lesotho!)

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Cynthia Giles has followed a serpentine career path from academia to publishing to marketing and design to information technology and corporate communications. There’s plenty of detail about this journey at, but briefly--the common theme has been ideas, and how to present them effectively. Along the way, she became an accidental expert on data warehousing and business intelligence, and for the past ten years she has combined corporate contracting with an independent consulting practice that focuses on marketing strategy for smaller businesses and non-profits. Having spent quite a bit of time looking for work, and anywhere from two weeks to two years inside a wide variety of American companies—she has given much thought to what works (and what doesn’t) when it comes to creating a great employment fit.