Businesswomen looking for leadership opportunities have a long way to go in India, Kenya and Thailand. They’ve nearly arrived in Colombia, Ghana and the United States. But an award-winning study by Thunderbird Professor Amanda M. Bullough, Ph.D., shows that all countries still have room for improvement.
“No country has achieved full gender equality in business leadership, but I think it’s achievable,” Bullough said. “And I don’t think it’s far off.”
Her study, which divides 115 countries into four tiers based on women’s participation in business leadership, earned the best paper award for increased gender awareness in international business research at the 2009 Academy of International Business conference June 30 in San Diego.
The paper also finished as a top-three finalist for the Emerging Scholar Award in Women’s Entrepreneurship. Bullough, an assistant professor of entrepreneurship at Thunderbird’s Walker Center for Global Entrepreneurship, wrote the study with a team of six researchers as part of her dissertation at Florida International University.
Data gathered from 11 secondary sources – such as the World Bank and the GLOBE project led by Thunderbird Dean of Research Mansour Javidan, Ph.D. – show that many factors can influence women’s participation in business leadership. These factors vary around the world and affect countries with a lower prevalence of women in leadership differently than countries with high levels of women’s participation.
“Women face new and different challenges and opportunities that vary depending on the environment in which they operate,” Bullough said.
Her results challenge the notion that developing countries can be clumped together as less progressive in terms of their gender beliefs. The paper identifies several developing nations with high rates of women in business leadership positions. Ghana, Rwanda and Botswana, for example, fall into the same cluster as Switzerland, Canada and the United States.
Developed countries such as Germany and Japan, meanwhile, rank low on Bullough’s scale. “It’s not just a matter of modernity and economic development,” Bullough said. “It’s a whole bunch of other things.”
The lowest level of Bullough’s scale includes countries such as India, Turkey and Pakistan, which have minimal participation of women in business leadership. Bullough said general acceptance of businesswomen in leadership roles remains low in the bottom-tier countries because of confusion when grappling with the combination of long-standing cultural norms and the addition of modern movements.
She said women in these countries also lack role models to follow and the benefit of policies that encourage women to attempt to hold positions of influence. Basic survival issues also become a factor in some of these countries.
“Until you can establish security and health care and basic nourishment, you’re going to have a tough time getting anybody – women or men – involved in entrepreneurship or business leadership,” Bullough said.
This is a particular challenge in Afghanistan, where Bullough serves as Thunderbird’s academic director for the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women Entrepreneurship Program.
Thunderbird and the American University of Afghanistan work together in the program to provide business education for women entrepreneurs in the war-torn country. Other Goldman Sachs partners run similar programs elsewhere, with a goal of educating 10,000 underserved women around the world by 2013.
Despite the obstacles in Afghanistan, Bullough said, many women in the country are emerging as business leaders.
“The security is terrible, and the women are facing long-term cultural and religious traditions that might impede their involvement in business leadership,” she said. “But women are doing it anyway. They’re forging ahead and starting businesses, growing businesses and hiring people.”
A fifth level exists at the top of Bullough’s scale for countries with complete equality of women and men across industry and occupational roles, as well as the highest levels of business leadership. Women in such an environment would participate equally with men in traditionally male-dominated industries such as construction and technology, while men would participate equally with women in traditionally female-dominated industries such as child care.
Bullough said no country fits this description yet. “Because Level 5 is figurative in nature at this point in history, only four levels are testable empirically,” she said.
Her paper, “Institutional Factors Affecting Women’s Participation in Business Leadership Around the Globe,” is part of a two-part series. In a separate paper, she examines factors affecting women’s participation in political leadership in 181 countries.
“Countries with high proportions of women in political leadership do not necessarily have high proportions of women in business leadership,” Bullough said.
Photo: Rangina Hamidi runs Kandahar Treasure, a business in Afghanistan that makes shawls, pillows and wall hangings. Overall, levels of women’s participation in business leadership are low in her country. Photo ©2008 by Paula Lerner Photography.
Country Levels of Women in Business Leadership
Level 1: Minimal participation
Few businesswomen achieve independent positions of influence.
West Bank Gaza
Level 2: Moderate participation
Some women gain independence based on need with a simultaneity of backlash and cultural acceptance, but leadership in business remains low.
Congo Democratic Republic
Level 3: Significant participation
Considerably more women follow their predecessors into leadership roles and can start businesses.
Level 4: Extensive participation
Women achieve equality at lower and middle levels of business, and a few reach the highest levels of leadership.
Level 5: Widespread participation
Complete equality of women and men exists across industry and occupational roles, as well as at the highest levels of business leadership. This level remains unrealized.