Inequality between women and men tends to be severe and highly visible in power and decision-making arenas. In most societies around the world, women hold only a minority of decision-making positions in public and private institutions. Advances over the past two decades are evident in all regions and in most countries, but progress has been slow.
Currently, only one in five members of lower or single houses of parliament worldwide is a woman. A few factors contribute to this blatant underrepresentation. Women are seldom leaders of major political parties, which are instrumental in forming future political leaders and in supporting them throughout the election process. Gender norms and expectations also drastically reduce the pool of female candidates for selection as electoral representatives, and contribute to the multiple obstacles that women face during the electoral process. The use by some countries of gender quotas has improved women’s chances of being elected. Yet, once in office, few women reach the higher echelons of parliamentary hierarchies.
Women are largely excluded from the executive branches of government. Female Heads of State or Government are still the exception, although the number has increased slightly (from 12 to 19) over the past 20 years. Similarly, only 18 per cent of appointed ministers are women, and are usually assigned to portfolios related to social issues. Women are also underrepresented among senior-level civil servants, and seldom represent their governments at the international level.
Women’s representation among corporate managers, legislators and senior officials remains low, with only about half of countries having shares of women in managerial positions of 30 per cent or more, and none reaching or surpassing parity. The gender compositions of executive boards of private companies are nowhere near parity—meaning that the “glass ceiling” remains a reality for the vast majority of the world’s women.