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Gender Equity and the Glass Ceiling

Are we making Progress toward Breaking down Barriers facing women in the Workplace?

Boosting the "economic power" of all women in society is a key way women can at first reach – and then stay – in the boardroom, according to a new global study.

After examining which factors are key to getting women higher up the on the corporate ladder, the  study found that this "economic power" is often determined by factors outside the workplace, such as education and progress their countries have made in gender equality and labor force participation.

The research, which was commissioned by BNY Mellon and Newton Investment Management and conducted by Cambridge University's Judge Business School, looked at 1,002 companies from the Forbes Global 2000 list across 41 countries spanning six continents and 51 industries, between 2004 to 2013.

A country's collective values and beliefs about gender equality, humane orientation and assertiveness were bigger influencers on a woman's economic power than were previously understood, the study found.

The top performing countries for female economic power were found to be Australia, Norway and Denmark. The U.S. came sixth in the list of top countries while Saudi Arabia, India and United Arab Emirates and Qatar are amongst the lowest.

"There is a clear effect of national cultural traits on female board membership in countries around the world," explained Professor Sucheta Nadkarni, the lead author of the study said.

"In nations with an assertive business culture such as Germany and Greece, fewer women get to the corporate boardrooms, but those who get there are able to stay longer. The issue of longevity of female board members needs to be examined further to determine whether it means success, tokenism, powerful networking or capability. This research opens a host of questions on this issue."

Encouraging businesses to embrace women for executive roles has prompted some European governments, for instance, in Belgium, Iceland, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain, to introduce quotas that mean there have to be a certain number of women on any board.

This study showed that while quotas can help to get women into the boardroom, they have no significant impact on keeping them there, however.

Helena Morrisey, chief executive at Newton Asset Management, said "What the study found was that the biggest driver of sustained improvement in terms of the progression of women was actually empowering all women by increasing girls' schooling, increasing the percentage of women in the labor force – quite different from saying you need interventions like legislation to get women in the boardroom."

The UK is leading the way in pushing gender equity and breaking the glass ceiling. Recent figures show that the UK is well on its way to achieving the target set by Lord Davies for women to hold 25 percent of boardroom positions by 2016. The accounting profession has always been a leader in gender equality, perhaps because more than one-half of college students studying accounting are women. Or, it could be the gender-friendly policies of the firms encourage more women to go into the accounting field.

I recently read a story about one of the Big-Four international CPA firms, PricewaterhouseCoopers. (PwC). The firm talks about having a truly diverse business that has equal opportunities for everyone as not just the right thing to do, but it is a business imperative.

PwC issued a transparency report that shows the firm’s gender pay gap in 2013 was 15.1 percent, below the UK average of 19.7 percent, but still an issue. A large part of this gap relates to the fact that the firm has fewer women at senior positions. According to the report, if you take into account factors such as grade, location or performance level, the gap falls to 2.5 percent; impressive but still disappointing.

PwC collaborated with Opportunity Now earlier this year on Project 28-40, a ground-breaking study into the experiences of 25,000 women in the UK, to really understand what is holding women back in the workplace.

The research dispelled a number of myths, such as women lacking ambition to get to the top or women leaving jobs at middle- management levels. In fact, women are every bit as ambitious as men, with 70 percent of each sex saying they want to be a leader. The research shows that women stay with their employer longer, but when they leave they are often replaced by men. That is surprising to me.

All businesses need to be more welcoming to women. I have taught accounting students for more than 50 years and find women to be more mature, hard-working, and seem to be driven to achieve. Perhaps they feel they have something to prove having been discriminated against for so long.

Blog posted by Dr. Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on September 24, 2015. Professor Mintz teaches in the Orfalea College of Business at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. He also blogs at: