We still have some way to go before we can honestly claim to have shattered the glass ceiling. That invisible barrier between minorities and women that prevents access to the upper rungs of the corporate ladder still requires our attention and action. The Economist’s glass ceiling index for 2015 reveals that the United States ranks below the OECD average, behind Germany and Australia and well behind countries like Finland, Norway and Sweden which rank highest.

The Glass Ceiling Index combines data on higher education, labor-force participation, pay, child-care costs, maternity rights, business-school applications and representation in senior jobs. It draws on data from a range of sources including the OECD, European Commission, World Economic Forum and others. Each country’s score is a weighted average of its performance on nine indicators.

glassceilingindex2015

The interactive version of this chart allows you to see how the weightings can modify the results, showing how that a focus on specific factors can transform a whole country’s performance. You can hover over each country to delve into the figures for each country – and when we do this for the US, the data is revealing – especially when we contrast it with some of the other countries in the list. Let’s extract the data for a few countries:

USA Canada Britain Finland
Higher ed gap 5.0 11.3 2.2 12.9
Participation gap -11.5 -7.0 -11.4 -2.5
Wage gap 17.9 19 17.5 18.7
Exec positions 42.7 36.0 34.3 32.0
Board roles 21.2 18.3 22.6 32.1
Childcare cost 35.1 29.3 45.7 22.5
Paid maternity 0.0 8.0 11.7 14.1
GMAT exams 38.3 38.5 27.4 53.6
 Women in parliament 19.3 25.2 22.8 42.5

It is always useful to compare and contrast your own performance against the world’s best practices, and here when the US is measured against Finland, there are a range of areas where the US has room for improvement. Based on the figures, education remains a powerful transformer. If we addressed the share of GMAT candidates (the graduate management admissions test) and the higher education gap (one flows from the other), then there would be a flow on to other indicators.

While these challenges are system wide, there are things that we can do as individuals, as leaders and as citizens:

  • Continue your personal learning – push yourself and your own limits. Continue to learn throughout your career
  • Encourage other women to learn – not all of us are interested in executive leadership, but we can all learn and grow. Encourage the women in your life to follow their interests and passions, and take on new experiences, challenges and courses
  • Promote learning – it’s important to shine a light on success. Promote the learning and achievement of those around you – show others the importance and benefits of learning
  • Take a challenge – seek out local opportunities to learn. Sign up for a local TEDx talk. Speak at your alma mater.

Nina Nets It Out: The glass ceiling will not disappear without action. And while many of the challenges are systemic, there are actions that you can take. Step out of your comfort zone and walk the education talk.

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