One year from now all boards of directors of large companies in Belgium should have at least 30 percent female members. But with 9 out of 10 CEOs being male, Belgium is still scoring much worse in comparison to countries such as Iceland and even Jamaica. What can we learn from them?

Every year the financial magazine Trends hands out an award to the Belgian Manager of the Year. How many women won the award since it was first handed out in 1985? Only two. Although one of the winners, Rose Claeys, had to share the prize with her brother-in-law.

Is that low number surprising? Not really, if you take into account the small percentage of women in the highest management positions. According to the latest study by PageGroup 9 out of 10 CEOs in Belgium are male.

It is surprising that this number is still so low. Particularly as 5 years ago the Belgian government signed a quota law, which states that by 2017 at least one third of all board members at big companies should be women. Smaller companies have two more years to reach that goal. Just one year before the first deadline, there is still a lot of work to be done as we discovered that 70% of companies don’t have a quota for women in managerial roles. We look at the top three countries closing the gender gap according to the World Economic Forum:

1. ICELAND
According to the World Economic Forum Iceland may be the first country in the world to close the gender gap in the near future, as 88 percent of the gap is already closed. Not only do they have the most female board members (44 percent), they also had a female head of state for 20 of the last 50 years, and almost half of their ministers and members of parliament are women. Why is it that Iceland does so much better than most countries in the world, including Belgium? One of the reasons that´s often mentioned is that Iceland has a very small economy where talent and human capital are scarce. If you don’t want to lose that talent, you need to make sure that both men and women are able to combine their work with family and social obligations. That’s why, for example, childcare in Iceland is very cheap.

2. JAMAICA
Jamaica may not be a country you would immediately think of when it comes to gender equality. In the most recent Gender Gap Index of the World Economic Forum Jamaica ranks number 65, out of 145 countries. But when it comes to the percentage of female managers, the Caribbean island leaves Belgium far behind. According to the latest study by the International Labour Organization (ILO) more than 59.3 percent of all managers in Jamaica are female. One of the reasons is that Jamaican women are the main breadwinners. They also tend to be better educated than most men: 40 percent of women have higher education, whereas only 18 percent of the Jamaican men go to university.

3. DOMINICAN REPUBLIC
Despite the fact that the Dominican society in many ways is still very traditional – men don´t undertake any domestic tasks – women are very much involved in the business world. The country even ranks first at the world wide ranking of the International Labour Organisation, when it comes the percentage of senior female managers (55.8 percent). There are a number of reasons for that, firstly the Dominican Republic is the fastest growing economy in Central America and the Caribbean. One of the biggest industries is the tourist sector, which traditionally employs a lot of women. In addition, Dominican women, like those in Jamaica, are usually better educated than the men.

What can Belgium learn from these examples? It´s not easy – if not impossible – to compare the Belgian situation to developing economies like Jamaica and the Dominican Republic. But what they do show us, is that given the opportunity, ambitious women will rise to the occasion. If Belgium, like Iceland and other Nordic countries have done before, take away boundaries, like prices for childcare, it should be able to reach the top 5 of the Gender Gap Index. What are we waiting for?

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Summary

If Belgium, like Iceland and other Nordic countries have done before, take away boundaries, like prices for childcare, it should be able to reach the top 5 of the Gender Gap Index.