"Women In Business" Study Reveals the Surprising Countries Beating Us In Workplace Equality

Accounting firm Grant Thornton has released its 2014 "Women in business: from classroom to boardroom" report, and its results are positive but in some ways surprising. The report details how women are faring all over the world, from over 6,000 companies in 45 countries, in terms of level of education attained and representation in upper management business careers.

Are you ready for a dose of ethnocentric reality check? Though we might assume that rich, industrialized, progressive Western countries would fare best in terms of female representation in business, it's actually some of those mysterious, presumed culturally backwards places that are beating us. As reported in Policy Mic:

Countries like Russia, Indonesia, Latvia and the Philippines have 40% or more women in senior management, while industrialized countries have about 20%. The U.S. is among the bottom 10 countries in the report with just 22%, along with Spain (22%), the UK (20%), Denmark (14%) and Germany (14%).

What's the explanation for this possibly counterintuitive finding? Christine Lagarde, herself a powerful woman who heads the International Monetary Fund, ascribes the higher representation of women in developing countries to women's particularly valuable traits in these positions: "When women are called to action in times of turbulence, it is often on account of their composure, sense of responsibility and great pragmatism in delicate situations." I have my doubts, though: this claim is likely just an example of benevolent sexism. The better explanation is that women in emerging markets are graduating from institutions of higher education at increasing rates, while their participation in business is sometimes encouraged by social policy (e.g., better childcare access), gender-based quotas, and more conservative climates in which extended family may be more available to support working mothers.

Having reviewed the report myself, I would have to say that some of its findings are a bit overblown. For instance:

Indeed, data from the [International Business Report in 2014] reveals that the fastest-growing businesses have more women in senior roles (26%) compared with the global average (24%).

Of course, the implication here is that having more women in senior roles helps to cause a company's rapid growth. It'd be cool if that were true, and it might be, but unfortunately much additional evidence would be required to establish that causal relationship. The difference in amount of women in senior roles between the "fastest-growing" and non-fastest-growing companies — just 2 percent — might not even be statistically significant. Even worse, the direction of causation could be precisely the opposite: maybe when companies are fast-growing, then they decide that they can afford to make a few more affirmative action or experimental hires at upper levels of management, and some of these go to women.

Small complaints aside, though, women are indeed doing pretty well in terms of education and, as a result, in business too, and it's not just the privileged women of North America.

Infographic: Policy Mic