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Forget Scandinavia - no countries have really achieved equality for women in work

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If you look at the OECD’s study about which is the best country to work, the one that made it into the first place is none other than Switzerland.

However, 2015 research from the World Economic Forum (WEF) on gender equality, Switzerland is in the top ten, in eighth place - but only ranked 47th out of 143 countries for ‘Wage Equality for similar work’.

It was also only ranked 50th in terms of the number of female legislators, senior officials, and managers, diving it into a 17th place in terms of economic participation and opportunities offered to women.

As such, which countries do in fact offer the best professional opportunities for women?

Let’s consider the gender pay gap. Here is the painful truth: the average gender wage gap in 2012 in the European Union was 16.4%. According to the OECD, the United Kingdom is doing worse than this, with a 17.48% gap in 2014.

The best European countries are Belgium and Luxembourg, both of which have a gap of 6.5% - unfortunately, they offer women less opportunities in managerial and political positions.

Norway, being the second best country in terms of gender equality and following Switzerland in the OECD’s study, is just beyond these two with a 7% percent gap.

Indeed the other countries in the top four for gender equality are not doing well in terms of the gender pay gap, with the leading country Iceland having a 14.08% gap, second placed Sweden a 15.13% gap, and finally Finland a 18.73% gap. Not what anyone would could equal. 

More than half of new university graduates are women, but they still are a minority mathematics, computer sciences and engineering, the degrees with the top earning potential. Indeed, in European countries women are substantially more educated than men, according to the World Economic Forum - but it doesn't mean it's translating into earnings later on.

It will come as no surprise that women have been offered less opportunities in managerial and seniors positions, as well as in political positions. In Part of Women in the Labour Market, in 2012, only a third of senior managerial roles were taken by women in the UK, placing it just above the EU average, whereas in Latvia and Lithuania the numbers were 45% and 41% respectively - which is still 5% too few.

Although European Eastern countries score poorly because of education and political empowerment for women, they are often more equal in managerial opportunities than the highly praised Scandinavia. Indeed, Norway actually employs only 35.5% women as senior managers, while Finland and Sweden do not even reach the 30% average. Globally, women make up only 15% of expatriate managerial positions.

Familial duties are a sticking point at the centre of many professional opportunities women can access. Undoubtedly, this has the consequence that women are four times more likely to take a part-time job than men, according to Eurostat.

This, in turn, does not allow them to get managerial positions or opportunities to work abroad. Furthermore, only 65.8% of women choose to work while having a young child, explained partly by the lack of part-time jobs opportunities in countries such as the UK, but also by the parental leave policies specific to each country.

Those policies don’t only depend on their leave length but also on the percentage of wages paid. Indeed, in the UK women can have a 52-week maternity leave, but only 39% of them are actually paid for the full amount of time. On average women in the UK receive only 90% of their average weekly income in the first six weeks, after which it decreases.

In Eastern European countries such as Lithuania, women benefit from 18 weeks fully paid, whereas Finland offers 15 weeks paid at 70% of income. Sweden might offer the longest deal, with 60 weeks paid at 80% of income. Norway, however, offers the best deal for women: 36 weeks at 100%, or 46 weeks at 80%.

It is also worth noting that Scandinavian countries are praised for cheap, sometimes free childcare, that gives the opportunity to women to get back to full-time work.

So, should we assume that the Scandinavian countries offer the best opportunities ? No country gives a woman the same pay a man receives, and this probably won't be resolved for another 170 years. No country offers ideal professional opportunities for women. Overall, they still expect women to take on more familial duties than men. Limits still exist for those who want to work abroad, to work full-time for their entire life without a break for child care, or even to get to senior managerial positions.

Paternity leave might now be being slowly introduced, and this might be a step in the right direction, but don’t fool yourself - there is still little equality in the matter. A radical change of mind needs to be attained, before we have true opportunities and equality.




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