Gender Parity: Does Perception Matter?
On October 17th, the Wilson Center's Women in Public Service Project released the Global Women’s Leadership Initiative Index (Leadership Index) – a first-of-its-kind comparison and examination of women’s leadership in the public sector by country. Mapping the index score on a global scale, the first round of 50 countries were selected based on data availability, geographical diversity and population representation. The higher the index score, the better advancement of women’s leadership in that country.
The Leadership Index is unique in demonstrating not just descriptively where women are leadership positions, in governments, but also exploring how they got there and the extent of power they are able to exercise in these positions. Factors such as the public perception of leadership serve as a measure of power in the Leadership Index, as study has found that public opinion on gendered leadership traits and government's role plays a role in ensuring gender equality. While public perception cannot stand alone in ensuring power for women leaders, it is important that we also look at where women are in top positions.
One of the indicators for the power pillar is the response to the question whether “men make better political leaders than women do”, asked in the World Value Survey, which allows us to understand the role perception plays in advancing women’s political leadership. Despite socioeconomic and geopolitical differences, Sweden and Slovenia have both demonstrated a strong positive attitude towards women in public life, with more than 70% of the respondents disagreeing or strongly disagreeing that men would make better political leaders. Yet Rwanda, a country holds the highest percentage of seats for women in the parliament, had roughly 50% respondents that supported that statement.
Knowing the leadership index is constantly evolving and only serves as one of the instrumental tools in achieving gender parity by 2050, it is important to acknowledge that public perception, as one indicator can influence political representation in a democratic society. Policymakers are encouraged to examine the numbers beyond representation and call for actions on better data collection and measurement. More importantly, the leadership index aims to drive a paradigm shift in social perception of women in public office, which requires not just research and analytics, but also a smart adaptation of cultural norms into value systems that would ultimately create an equal society for all.