Ladies, slip on your wet suit and get ready to surf a billion-woman wave into the workplace worldwide. That’s right, it may not be a man’s world for much longer according to the latest survey from Booz & Company on women at work. It reports that up to 1 billion women are expected to enter the work force in the next 10 years.
While the job outlook shows a dramatic increase in women employees, employers, producers and entrepreneurs in the next decade – also noting that it won’t only propel gender equality, but global economic growth – the U.S. surprisingly wasn’t ranked in the top 10 of the most economically empowering countries for women in the world. It came in at number 30, and wait until you hear which countries nabbed the top two spots.
As it turns out, Australian women are the most economically empowered in the world, according to the survey, followed closely by Norwegian women. What do we have in our way that they don’t? Apparently, a child care cost is a major factor hindering American women in their career progression.
As Penney Frohling, business strategist and partner at Booz & Company, told CNBC, “In the U.S … there are women living hand-to-mouth in low-waged jobs, and 41% of their salaries are taken over by child care costs — so there’s really no way of getting ahead when you’re facing those kind of (obstacles.)”
So what is Norway’s secret? The Nordic countries, including Iceland and Sweden and Norway, have a long history of supporting women. Iceland was one of the first countries to give women the right to vote in 1915 and it currently has 43% female parliament members and has had a female head of state for 18 of the past 50 years. All Nordic countries reached near 100% literacy for both sexes, feature near parity in all levels of education and return that investment in the workforce. It should also be noted that the Nordic nations each have generous paid maternity and paternity leave policies. In Sweden, women are offered 480 days of maternity time. The U.S. is one of only three countries that does not offer paid maternity leave. The U.S. is considered to be decades behind in this category.
Also, women in Norway, as well as other European countries work at companies with quotas. Companies in these countries have improved equality in the boardroom on paper, but it doesn’t mean the company is a better place. Quotas undermine women because it is saying they can’t get there on their own merit. A University of Michigan study of the effects in Norway found that the law led to inexperienced women joining the boards, “and that this has seriously damaged those firms’ performance.” As Leonie Lamont of The Sydney Morning Herald wrote, ”For in the upper echelons of business, the ”Q” word provokes revulsion. Quotas bring sanctions. Quotas are tokenistic. Quotas undermine the mythical purity of the market. Quotas put the government’s nose where it doesn’t belong.” She was writing about Australia’s Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency business achievement awards and she noted that the recipients will not have been driven by legislated quotas. “They are forward thinkers, putting in place measures to get the maximum potential from the human capital at their disposal.” And that should be how more women get in the boardroom.