Can women lead without attaining their full rights?

    Women continue to face many hurdles to reach positions of leadership – hurdles that their male counterparts don’t. There is now female leadership without fair access.

    Despite decades of women calling for gender equality, evidence shows that the “glass ceiling” is yet to be shattered across a wide range of industry sectors and geographies. Although meta-analyses suggest that gender differences are no longer significant, women are still largely under-represented at senior levels, and access to leadership positions has been hindered by stereotyping and discrimination.

    Women deserve a seat not only at the table, but at the top, just like the other 50 percent, which forms the world’s population. You don’t need to be a woman to realise the ways in which women around the globe are relevant, including the power behind the role of motherhood in building foundations and motivating future generations. Women are not only largely excluded from reaching leadership positions or direct involvement in decision-making processes, but discrimination is also reflected in the persisting gender pay gap.

    In the UK, 90% of women still work for companies that pay them less than their counterparts, and men earn more than women in more than three out of four companies. BBC’s latest annual report revealed the corporation is yet to overcome decades of entrenched discrimination towards its female employees, with just two of its top 20 most highest-paid stars being women. Further statistics show that a significant gender wage gap still exists in the US, whereby full-time working women earn 79 percent for every dollar a man earns.

    This year celebrated the centenary of women’s demand for rights beginning with the Suffragette movement in the post-WWI era, and after 100 years of protests, demonstrations and acts enshrined in law, women still fall short of the rights the movement called for. An irony lingers as we reflect on women’s significant contribution during WWI, forced into the workplace because of the death of their husbands and a need for a cheap, easily replaceable labour force to take over ‘men’s work.’ A similar trend swept the US during WWII, however once these wars were over, women had to return to their traditional roles.

    Although Rwanda may be lagging behind in many other areas of development, and such inclusivity rests on a necessity of workforce, the country seems to be leading in taking a range of measures to close the gap between men and women and recognise the importance of this cooperation. 

    According to the World Economic Forum’s 2016 Global Gender Gap Report, Rwanda ranks amongst the top 5 out of 144 countries in its global gender gap index, ahead of the US and France. Rwanda’s female labour force participation is one of the highest rates in the world at 86 percent, compared to the US at 56 percent and on the decline since 2000. This includes a narrower wage gap, paid maternity leave, as well as high scoring in female political participation. At 61 percent, Rwanda boasts triple the percentage of women in parliamentary positions than in the US, where 80 percent of seats are held by men.  

    Why is all of this relevant? Well, research suggests that women who take on political, decision-making roles raise important yet overlooked issues. Where this is the case, women around the world can benefit from a significant trickle-down effect.

    However, one relative obstacle women face is the lack of access to networks and sponsors, which is crucial for aspiring leaders. Under-representation plays a major part in building networks to pave the way for accessibility to senior levels, where, by natural tendency one may feel more inclined to associate with people who look like them. This may be disheartening to aspiring women in a world where more men occupy leadership positions. We could look at one example in which, women represent 45 percent of the S&P 500 workforce but only 5 percent of the CEOs.

    It could be that women’s stronger focus on educational support in seeking affirmation is telling, where, for example in the US, women have earned more bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees than men for decades. Indeed, education is key and must be encouraged to all members of society, especially when it comes to shifting the rhetoric and addressing gender disparity. As Queen Rania of Jordan said rightfully, “If you educate a woman, you educate a family, if you educate a girl, you educate the future.” Education is powerful when an individual is conscious of their potential to exercise their skills.

    The essentiality of holding leadership and decision-making positions is crucial in matters where the outcome highly concerns women. Throughout history, women and children are the most targeted and suffer disproportionately during and after war, based on findings in places like Rwanda, Bosnia, Syria, Somalia and Myanmar, to name a few. It is estimated that 90 percent of those killed in today’s conflicts are civilians, with the majority being women and children primarily vulnerable when law and order is breached. Granted the opportunity, women must influence the agenda and create positive change in addressing key issues as well as peacekeeping for utmost civilian protection.

    Leadership by women is as legitimate as is leadership by men.

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