Denmark is a mediocre country when it comes to gender equality at management level. Out of 140 countries, Denmark ranks 72nd in the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) annual gender gap report*.
This is not news, but may still come as a surprise to many.
“If Denmark had a similar place on FIFA’s World Ranking of national football teams, it would only be marginally ahead of Burkina Faso and the Faeroe Islands.”
If Denmark had a similar place on FIFA’s World Ranking of national football teams, it would only be marginally ahead of Burkina Faso and the Faeroe Islands. This would not match our self-understanding as a football nation or our investments and collective ambitions on behalf of our national football team.
The same goes for our ranking in terms of gender equality in management: a spot as number 72 should not match our self-understanding and ambitions. And it definitely does not match the investments being made.
The ranking was further affirmed last week in McKinsey Global Institute’s comprehensive global gender equality report. In the analysis of gender equality among legislators, senior officials and executives, McKinsey placed Denmark among countries with “extremely high inequality”. “Extremely high inequality at top management levels” is the lowest ranking of the survey’s four-grade scale.
The latest surveys of top management teams of Danish C20 companies show a percentage gender distribution of 97:3 in favour of men. In this league we have been overtaken by every country in Europe. The share of women holding board seats of all listed companies in Denmark has declined from 11 per cent in 2014 to 10 per cent in 2015. These figures were presented very recently at a meeting with the headline “business women – from manager to top manager” at Berlingske, the daily newspaper.
Nearly a year ago The Economist called the paradox “A Nordic Mystery”; the fact that the Nordic countries are in the top five in terms of general gender equality but are challenged in terms of equality of men and women at the upper end of the pay scale, and Denmark is at the bottom in the Nordic region.
In my view the mystery is mainly that we seem unable to see all the obvious clues that are right in front of us. Perhaps we have stared at the figures so long that we’ve become blind. We no longer see them. Perhaps it is similar to the story of the frog that does not jump out of the pot but is boiled alive because it gets used to the heat.
“The fact is that at this snail’s pace it will take generations to achieve gender equality.”
The fact is that at this snail’s pace it will take generations to achieve gender equality. According to the most pessimistic projections based on available data, this pace will close the gender gap at management level in 200 years.
I belong to those who believe this is definitely a manageable challenge. If we want to, this is.
We come in fifth in terms of general gender equality**: equal access to education, women’s labour force participation throughout generations, the number of female university graduates and their accomplishments, day care facilities, equal access to the health system and so on. We can be proud. This is a vital part of the foundation of our welfare society. And we must protect the results we have achieved. We have worked hard for them.
So can’t we just be content with everything we have accomplished? And wait for the rest to sort itself out.
Perhaps we could. If only the potential of solving the power distribution/gender equation had not been so convincing. If only the costs of doing nothing were not so large. If only the gender gap did not challenge one of the pillars of Denmark’s core values.
“Given our current gender gap results, Denmark has a trump card on its hands. But we seem too blinded by our own self-perception of being a country with full gender equality to take the next decisive steps.”
Given our current gender gap results, Denmark has a trump card on its hands. But we seem too blinded by our own self-perception of being a country with full gender equality to take the next decisive steps.
Even though the advantages are obvious. At organisational level it is about better utilisation and recruitment of talents. Higher employee satisfaction. Better and more informed decisions. Greater insight into customers’ and citizens’ needs and wishes. More innovation and new thinking. And ultimately also an improved bottom line. These are the findings of several studies from The Catalyst, Credit Suisse, Harvard Business School and others.
Despite these perspectives it is unfortunately impossible to spot anybody on the political front with a strategically consistent and ambitious plan for gender equality in Denmark. This is really a shame.
At the same time, it is important to remember that progress in gender equality has always been made through efforts at all levels – individuals, organisations and national guidelines. We can each do something in our personal lives. We can do something as organisations. We can create a political framework that paves the way for the necessary progress.
Hopefully, we will soon be ready to acknowledge the poor gender equality situation at management level. Then we should realise the cohesion and convincing economic potential of solving this inequality. This will be the topic of my next blog.
But in future this blog will not be about how to make women fit into a certain management context or about blaming men for where we are today. Gender perception and imbalances are an integrated part of our common cultural DNA. We’re in this together and must solve it together. We are tripping ourselves up if we do not face the gender equality problems and try to solve them.
“Everybody will benefit from us solving the mystery and making the mission clear.”
Everybody will benefit from us solving the mystery and making the mission clear: Denmark should have a leading position and be a role model in terms of equality everywhere, including the boardrooms.
I will do what I can to help solve the mystery and pursue the mission in my coming blogs.