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Women represent 7 percent of global leadership

Women represent 7 percent of global leadership

In a newly released video from the Inter-parliamentary Union, women's leadership has a long way to go

Hang on to your apron strings girls, it seems that despite all manner of commitments to better global stage representation, we're pretty much still baking cakes. At a time when the world really needs more women running the whole bakery franchise, this isn't the best news.

Corporate representation is improving and some governments are leading, but as the IPU UN Map of Women in Politics shows, in 2020, the world simply cannot afford so few women in power. Here are the simple facts, currently being presented to global leaders via the IPU in a new video series. 

Global agreements

You may be aware (or not) that there are global agreements around women's representation in government and at senior levels of bureaucracy. In 2015, every United Nations member state made the commitment to ensure women's full and effective participation and opportunities for leadership. This rationale is not just equity, fairness and rights & representation; but also because it makes for stronger governance and better economic outcomes. 


The return on investment dividend gained from diversity in governance is well documented. In the private sector, gender diverse companies are 15% more likely to outperform and where there is a 30% female representation on boards, there is a 6% points to net margin return on investment. In government, women tend to put more emphasis on long term growth drivers, such as Environmental Sustainability, Education and Health. 

Current state of play

With so much emphasis on the importance of women in leadership, what is the current state of play?

  • 1 in 4 Parliamentarians is now female
  • 1 in 5 Government Ministers are female
  • Less than 7% of Country Leaders are female
  • 1/3 of companies have no women at all in board positions

Today, according to the IPU, more than half of women heads of state and government are in Europe. Nearly all governments in the Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway) are headed by a woman, with Sweden being the exception. There are three women heads of state or government in Asia (Bangladesh, Nepal and Singapore), one in Africa (Ethiopia) and one in the Pacific (New Zealand). 

In the case of ministers, despite some shifts in recent years, women ministers are still most likely to oversee family and social affairs, followed closely by environment and energy portfolios.

Survey of attitudes to women leaders

Interestingly, a survey conducted in 2019 of 10,000 people revealed that more than half  were still 'uncomfortable' with the idea of women as leaders in corporate and political life. 

With challenges persisting, research still shows that quotas work. As do supporting the needs of broader family in workplaces. Three quarters of countries in the top 50 for women's representation (including Australia) have some kind of quota system - with women fulfilling the quotas proving to be just as qualified as men. 

You can check the global data on national parliaments on Parline - the Inter- Parliamentary Union's open data on parliaments around the world. 

Corporate Women Directors International publishes the stats on women on boards and you can check your industry's progress there as some sectors are definitely faring better than others. (Globally for instance, the majority of  large financial institutions now have women board directors.)

Origin of this data

This information was extracted from a video made for the Inter-parliamentary Union, which is the first in a series of short videos on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), designed for people working in and for parliaments, and for societal champions advocating for change. It is part of  a partnership video project between the IPU, Arizona State University, Corporate Women Directors International, the Council of Women World Leaders, Represent Women, the Reykjavík Index for Leadership, UN Women, the World Bank and Women Political Leaders. 

The first video on SDG 5 "Gender Equality" looks at the current state of play in global women's leadership and with it, how to take concrete actions to ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership, particularly in parliaments.

Please note that the opinions expressed in this article are our own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the members of the video project. The facts however, speak for themselves. 
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