You may remember that in one of our posts last month we asked what exactly made women different in a business ethics context. One of the big issues here is the "glass ceiling"that hinders women from getting to the top of the corporate ladder. Discrimination is often invisible but incontrovertible to those that encounter it.
To be sure, this is a problem faced by women everywhere, but at the same time, such institutional discrimination also varies quite significantly between countries. In our business ethics book, we reported on evidence of female held directorships in Europe - where female representation in the boardroom ranged from 0% in Portugal to 29% in Norway. So it was with some interest that we read in the Financial Times last week about evidence emerging of female board memberships in the Gulf region - an area not traditionally known as a leader in diversity management.
The picture painted by the report is of a region that, in terms of diversity management, demonstrates much like Europe quite a bit of, well ...diversity. Some Gulf countries are actually emerging as leaders in the region, with women making up 2.7 per cent of boards in Kuwait, and 3% in Oman. This not only compares favourably to other Gulf states, such as Abu Dhabi (0.6%) and Saudi Arabia (0.1%), but also stacks up pretty well against other ostensibly less conservative countries such as Italy (2%) and Japan (0.4%).
Of course, board memberships do not tell the whole story about gender discrimination in business, but it certainly gives a good flavour of the types of challenges facing women looking to secure advancement to the executive suite. So it's good to see some progress being made in the Gulf, and hopefully will act as a further spur for laggard countries in Europe and elsewhere. Who knows, perhaps even Italy's womanizing PM, Silvio Berlusconi will be able to prompt a greater attention to gender among Italy's boardrooms, especially having appointed the former model and (as the media puts it "ex-showgirl") Mara Carfagna, as Equal Opportunities Minister (pictured right).
But whatever progress is made in Italy or Kuwait, though, such countries will still remain far, far behind the leaders in female board membership. Right now, the place to go for high flying women is Norway, where women now make up 40% of board positions. But we're not talking voluntary social responsibility here; Norway's female friendly pattern is a result of good old fashioned regulation. As the International Herald Tribune reported a couple of months ago, it's not been a easy transition for Norway, but with appropriate mentoring, training schemes, support mechanisms and enforcement, a genuine change in attitudes seems to have accompanied the 2003 law that forced Norwegian companies to fill 40% of board seats with women. Such positive discrimination isn't always popular, but as the chart from the IHT shows, it certainly makes a difference.