Economist glass-ceiling index suggests progress for women at work has stalled

Are today's working conditions getting any better for women?

Marking International Women's Day, The Economist’s glass-ceiling index which measures where women have the best chance of equal treatment at work, shows that following decades of improvement, the progress for women in the workplace has stalled in recent years.

The index ranks 29 members of the OECD, a group of mostly wealthy countries, based on ten indicators, from labor-force participation and salaries to paid parental leave and political representation.

Iceland is first for the second year in a row. In fact, Nordic countries have always dominated the top of the index, scoring highly on all our measures. The bottom also has a familiar feel: women in South Korea, Japan and Turkey still face the biggest workplace obstacles. Australia and Poland were the biggest climbers, both up five spots from last year.

Driving women's economic participation 

In almost every country, women graduate from university in greater numbers than men. Yet they make up a lower share of the workforce across The Economist's index. In Turkey, Greece and Italy, less than two-thirds of adult women are employed.

The gap in labour-participation rates means that fewer women climb the corporate ladder, which contributes to the gender wage gap. In the OECD, women earn around 12% less than men.

Can women really have it all?

Even in 2024, the data suggest that having both a career and children is out of reach for many women. Across the world 95% of men between the ages of 25 and 54 are employed, but just 52% of women are. In the OECD, a club of mostly rich countries, the shares are 91% for men and only 75% for women.

What explains the gap? Unequal access to education and workplace discrimination play a role. But, in the rich world at least, childcare looms largest.

Read more about “motherhood penalty" here.

Economist IWD women

Encouraging women in leadership

Looking to women in business, the statistics are hopeful. Women’s representation in senior management roles in the OECD reached 34.2%, up from 33.8% in the previous year. Sweden, America and Poland are particularly impressive, with women holding more than 40% of high-level jobs.

For the first time, the share of company board members who are women reached 33% in the OECD. 

Support for employees starting families 

Starting a family can make it hard for many women to stay in the workforce, an issue known as the motherhood penalty. Two factors can help women do both: generous parental leave and affordable child care.

According to the index, the length of paid maternity leave varies widely: Hungary, Greece, Slovakia and the Nordics are generous. America is the only wealthy country where the government does not require employers to offer new mothers a minimum amount of leave.

The Economist also highlights how leave for fathers is also important for sharing the burden of child care between parents. Japan and South Korea have the most generous paternity-leave policies in the OECD. 

Understanding women's role in politics 

The index also considers women's role and influence in politics. The Economist cites studies that show women in political leadership leads to a greater focus on women’s rights and family policies.

In Iceland, Sweden, Norway and Finland, the top four countries in the index - women hold at least 45% of parliamentary seats. In South Korea and Japan, on the other hand, their share is below 20%.

So the outcome?

In most countries women are still struggling to break through the glass ceiling. As such, there is still much work to be done, and a critical need to Inspire Inclusion

Read more here.



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