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empowered women: great countries around the world for working women

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Irini V | Mar 8, 2018 | Photograph by: Christin Hume

Gender equality in the workforce is a long path that countries around the world have been travelling along since before the 19th century when legislation in Sweden and Russia began to allow women some of the same rights as men.

With gender equality being one of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals for a prosperous global future, it is high on the agenda. Many have improved leaps and bounds, flying far ahead of others, but no single country has achieved true equality.

We decided to have a look at the status quo in 2018 and see what the current efforts are around the world.

We considered a number of factors we feel contribute to favourable and encouraging conditions for gender equality and women in a country, especially working conditions. Factors include what the country’s leadership (parliament) is comprised of, the proportion of women in leadership positions in the workforce, the gender wage gap and parental leave legislation. We decided to highlight the historically high performing Nordic Countries, in particular Sweden, our Commonwealth neighbour New Zealand, and Rwanda for its stand-out progress.


Sweden – and the Nordic Countries

The Nordic Countries have been high performers for literally centuries and 2018 is no different.

It would be illogical to leave any of them off this list. Along with world leading chart-toppers Finland, Iceland and Norway, Sweden is a strong team player with a spot in the top 5 in The Economists Glass Ceiling Index, and the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report. By the way, Iceland is number one.

According to Business Insider, in Sweden there is a high proportion of women in senior roles in Parliament at over 50% – in Finland it is over 60%, and in Iceland women have been running the country for 20 of the last 50 years. Child-care costs come to just under 6% of women’s salaries and parental leave for both parents is encouraged. Sweden shares flexible and generous parental leave policies with its Nordic neighbours.

According to BI’s report in 2016, Swedish parents get 480 days of leave at 80% of their normal pay. That’s on top of the 18 weeks reserved just for mothers, after which the parents can split up the time however they choose, and dads get 90 paid paternity days reserved just for them. It has made Stockholm a bit famous for its yummy daddy culture – it’s common to see fathers walking with prams with other dads on the footpath.


New Zealand

Since the Nordic nations are quite far away, much older countries than Australia and operate in a completely different atmosphere, we thought it was important to look at our close neighbour, New Zealand. And we were surprised, because the little country beside ours is outperforming Australia for its women.

In the same WEF Gender Gap Report, New Zealand comes in 9th in the world – a way better score than that given to Australia, sitting at 35th. What are they doing so right? New Zealand has a very low gender wage gap of 5.6% – Australia’s is 16% – and celebrates a high proportion of women in senior management positions in the workforce at 40%.

Business Insider’s list of countries where women have the most power, lists New Zealand as 15th. Australia is not on the list. AND about a third of New Zealand’s Parliament is comprised of women. Great time to go Kiwi!



Rwanda has been causing a stir in the conversation for some years now, and we wanted to highlight this small developing country to show that gender equality is not more achievable in wealthier nations.

After suffering atrocious genocide in 1994, Rwanda has powered on towards gender equality and has achieved an impressive rank of number four in the WEF’s Gender Gap Report – overtaking Sweden for 4th place, and beating New Zealand, the UK, Australia and the United States by miles. Their central government has been committed to gender equality and has been a world pioneer, becoming the first country ever to have women occupy more than half of the seats in Parliament –  as of 2016 the proportion was 64%.

While women in Rwanda still don’t have equal access to education, they have steadily climbed to become some of the healthiest and most politically empowered in the world and we believe the numbers will continue to improve.




Natalie Hughes founded Miss Independent in 2017, to educate and mentor women and help them make their best career and business decisions. Natalie is an experienced business woman and non-executive company director focused on organisational design, strategy, growth and innovation. Her goal is to help you think differently, work differently and feel in control of your own destiny.

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