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Gender gap is ranked by country, and you'll be surprised where U.S. falls

Rebecca Bracken is a news and views writer.






Here's what American women have to do to close the gender gap in our lifetime

What do we want? Equal pay for equal work! When will we get it? 2095… if we're lucky.

That's what the new Global Gender Gap report from the World Economic Forum says, in addition to some other pretty depressing statistics.

The United States ranks 20th globally for gender equality.You read that right. Women in 19 other countries from top-ranked Iceland, Finland and Norway to Rwanda and Latvia have women who enjoy more equal rights, pay equality and access to education than American ladies.

But it's not all terrible news. The report also offers a blueprint for how and why things are actually improving for women around the world. Here's what we need to do to close the gender gap — hopefully well before 2095.

Elect more women to public office

In Rwanda, which is ranked seventh, women lead in labor force participation, primary school attendance, and most importantly are heavily represented in government. In fact women make up an overwhelming majority of the Rwandan Parliament, 64-36.

Government makes better policy when more women have a voice in the process. In the U.S. women hold fewer than 20 percent of Congressional seats. No wonder women aren't making much progress on key issues like child care, pay equality and healthcare.

We need to encourage our girls to pursue careers beyond what’s considered "traditional"

Here's what American women have to do to close the gender gap in our lifetime

Photo credit: forumblog.org

Strong economies don't necessarily naturally produce gender equality and parity in the workforce. Switzerland, for example, only ranks 11th on the gender equality list despite being a center of innovation and business. The report's author, Helena Trachsel, points out that the Swiss culture is extremely traditional in regard to women's career opportunities and the financial services sector, which dominates the economy, is heavily dominated by men — leaving women at a 32 percent earning disadvantage to their male counterparts.

If you're a hiring manager, you should aim for a 50-50 gender split for your team

"Offering practical support such as child care is part of this, as is the right attitude," Trachel recommends. "It should not be a career killer for a man to ask for extended leave because he wants to look after his children."

Jennifer Stagnaro, CMO for SugarCRM, a Silcon Valley software company that encourages girls to enter the tech sector, explains that actively recruiting and hiring women has the compound effect of encouraging girls to enter traditionally male-dominated fields.

"It's all about providing girls an opportunity to see themselves as leaders," Stagnaro says. "And we make that part of our core values. I think women are just coming into their own."

We need to stop being too polite to talk openly about the gender gap and back it up with action

If we really, for reals, want to close the gender gap, we need to lose the attitude that talking about it is somehow taboo or off-putting. The gender gap is real, measurable and if we have any hope of closing it in our lifetime, we need to get over our fear of speaking about it outside of Facebook.

Melanie Richards Partner and Vice Chair of KPMG U.K. says that in business, the board room must lead the way toward closing the gender gap and be held accountable for their performance.

"Making this a key performance indicator for the board and executive committee helps to reinforce the seriousness of the intent, and leads by example," Richards says. "But our research found that the old adage 'what gets measured gets done' is only partly true here: Commitment to measure has to be connected to relevant and practical actions that drive change in the organization."

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