The Surprising Glass Ceiling in Sweden and France

Gender Issues: A Swedish and French Mystery

by Elaine Schwartz    •    Dec 24, 2012    •    761 Views

What happens to a woman’s career trajectory when her job is family-friendly? The results have not been what policy makers expected.

In their work lives, Swedish women receive generous paid maternity leave and and can opt for flexible work hours. Politically, the Swedish Parliament has gender balance as do 2 major Swedish political parties’ electoral slates. In France, 17 of President Hollande’s 34 cabinet ministers are female and the French Constitution was amended in 2010 to mandate corporate and public gender equality. In France, Sweden and across the EU, there is a commitment to end gender inequality.

And yet, in France and Sweden, in private industry, men are in charge. Among France’s 87 universities, only 8 presidents are female. In large French law firms, a vast minority of the partners are female. Even when their boards implement gender balance quotas, large corporations have few, if any, females CEOs.

Social scientists are not sure why women are not rising to the top when the work world has made it easier to combine work and family. One theory is children. When labor force participation enables women to divide their time and energy between work and the family, they select the balance. As a result, many do not become the professional alpha women who can compete against committed males who rise to the top.

Monday Gender Issues Posts

Sources and Resources: This excellent discussion of “The Plight of the Alpha Female” appeared recently in the City Journal while this paper, “Is There a Glass Ceiling in Sweden?” presents details on the the surprising results of the Swedish family-friendly work environment. Also, you might want to look at an avalanche of gender stats and ideas in this most recent 300+ page OECD report, “Closing the Gender Gap.”

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