More than a year ago, Hillary Clinton announced her plans for an initiative aimed at calling global attention to the inequities women face and measuring the progress they have made in the 20 years since she famously said "women's rights are human rights" at the United Nations' Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing.
And on Monday, Clinton finally released the long-awaited report, together with her daughter Chelsea Clinton, Gates Foundation Co-Chair Melinda Gates, as well as an all-star cast of female leaders ranging from Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, who joined by teleconference. The event was intended to be a major moment for the all-but-certain 2016 candidate, but has been overshadowed by controversies surrounding Clinton's use of private e-mail during her time as Secretary of State and donations from foreign governments accepted by her foundation.
The report addresses issues ranging from female literacy to paid maternity leave to equal pay, looking at how far the world has come in these areas over the past 20 years. And of course--especially given the political aspirations of its sponsor and the name of the report--it examines how much has changed for women in the area of leadership, both in public life and in the private sector.
So what does it actually tell us about the status of women in leadership roles? Predictably--and understandably--it says the change in the area of women's leadership has been far too slow. In the section near the end of the report about how women are faring in executive suites and government leadership roles, much of the data was collected from prior research. As a result, many of the data points--such as that women occupy just under 5 percent of CEO jobs at Fortune 500 companies in 2014--won't be very surprising to anyone.
Still, taken together, the sweeping data set paints a unsettling picture of the gap that continues to exist between men and women in leadership roles. On the initiative's web site, it also offers a particularly compelling visual map, where users can explore how countries vary on a wide range of policies, issues and statistics, such as how many women are justices on the constitutional court to the proportion of seats held by women in central banks. (Data was not always available for all countries.)
At the executive level of government, the report examined the leaders of 87 countries from 1900 to the present, looking only at heads of government (not heads of state). The Economist Intelligence Unit, which partnered with the Clinton and Gates foundations for research and analysis, found that just 33 percent of those 87 countries have or have ever had a female head of government. Today, just 18 countries have a female head of state or head of government; in 1995 there were 12.
In legislative roles, the report says that the global share of women in the lower houses of these elected bodies has almost doubled since 1995, but the proportion is still just over 20 percent. Even in the regions with the highest share of female representatives--East Asia & the Pacific, and Europe & Central Asia--women make up only a quarter of legislators, though a few countries do stand out.
Data in the report from the Inter-Parliamentary Union shows that in the Scandinavian countries, the rates of women in legislatures hover around 40 percent, while in Rwanda, Bolivia and Andorra, 50 percent or more of "lower- or single-house parliamentary seats are held by women." The report also cites data reporting that just 76 percent of current constitutions protect a woman's right to hold legislative office, whether through explicit or broad guarantees.
Meanwhile, there are even fewer women in cabinet jobs. The percentage of women in government ministerial jobs on a global level was 17 percent in 2012, barely above the 15 percent in 2005.
In the private sector, the report cites International Labor Organization data showing that between 2000 and 2012, the proportion of women in management roles increased in 84 of the 109 countries where data was available. But many of the increases were meager, it said, and in 22 countries, the proportion of female managers actually dropped. In a visually powerful graphic on the initiative's Web site, meanwhile, the initiative compares the size of the gender gap between men and women who hold executive positions in 18 different countries. In Cyprus, for instance, women hold 71 percent fewer executive positions than men. In Slovenia, the gap is only 14 percent.
The report also shares the slow progress of women on corporate boards, citing ILO data showing that 30 percent of surveyed companies have no women on corporate boards, and that at roughly two-thirds of companies, fewer than 30 percent of directors are women. Among large U.S. companies, growth of female directors has edged up from 14 percent in 2006 to just 19 percent this year.
So what does Clinton's initiative suggest we do to improve the rate of women in leadership? In an accompanying "full participation plan," the group outlines five broad "principles for action," such as guaranteeing equality under the law, changing social and cultural norms, and funding and investing in programs that promote gender equality, as well as 10 "priorities," such as closing the gender gap in technology and engineering jobs and eliminating economic barriers for women.
Some of these are specific policy ideas clearly connected to women's careers and advancement, such as advocating for paid family leave and affordable childcare. The explicit solutions for getting more women into leadership, meanwhile, were fairly broad. The initiative suggests eliminating practices that discriminate against women or discourage them from being politically engaged, more training and networking to get them into public leadership jobs, and addressing biases against women as leaders. It calls for more private sector programs to get more women into executive ranks and onto boards, mentioning "training programs" and "institutional reforms."
One increasingly common political solution to get more women onto corporate boards that is not in the "No Ceilings" plan--which reads like something of a platform for women's issues for Clinton's expected campaign--is the idea of quotas. In recent years, a number of European countries have adopted a mandate for improving the number of women on corporate boards rather than a nice-to-have, though few expect them to ever happen in the U.S. On Friday, Germany became the latest country to do so, passing a law that will require German companies to make sure women make up at least 30 percent of their board seats starting next year.