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Despite significant global achievements in promoting women’s rights and closing the gender gap, women still face many inequalities in the workplace. The fact that, globally speaking, women earn 37% less than men and are almost chronically underrepresented in leadership roles are just two examples of work-related gender inequality.
Depending on the gravity of the situation, gender inequalities may even be a reason for women to relocate and live in a different country. But which country to choose to avoid moving from one country with poor gender equality to the next? Which countries offer working women the most opportunities?
This blog post gives you an overview of the best countries for women to work and live in. But first, let’s take a look at what makes a good country to work in as a woman.
There are many different aspects that need to be considered when determining which countries offer working women the best opportunities and conditions to lead a fulfilled professional and personal life.
The gender pay gap is, without a doubt, the most publicly discussed inequality women face in the workplace. Although there still is a long way to go to achieve pay parity on a global scale, some countries are already doing pretty well when it comes to equal pay for equal work. Those are exactly the countries which are among the top candidates for “best country to work in for women”.
Many working women want to have children at some point in their life. Unfortunately, combining motherhood and career can be tricky. In many countries, women are still lacking the necessary support to take an adequate amount of time off to care for their newborn children. The countries with the most generous parental leave policies are hence also popular with female remote workers who decide to take the plunge and relocate.
While special leave for family-related emergencies should be granted to all employees, regardless of their gender, there are certain emergency situations which almost exclusively concern women. UN estimates suggest that 1 in 3 women worldwide experience domestic violence. Not having to worry about work under such circumstances is a great relief. Since not many jurisdictions have implemented special laws to provide women with special leave in such cases, those who have clearly stand out. The same goes for special leave in case of miscarriage.
This aspect may only be partly related to gender equality, but job prospects and career opportunities are an equally important driver when picking the best countries for women to work in. Unless, of course, the female employee keeps her position and works remotely for an employer based in a different country under an Employer of Record (EOR) arrangement, which grants her all the mandatory and customary employee benefits of the country she lives in.
However, evaluating career opportunities in a country is not just about looking at the number of jobs available, but should also include aspects like female leadership. In order to consider a country to be rich in opportunities for women, the latter should also show a strong participation of women in management positions and boards.
Inequalities in the workplace are often a mirror of women’s political participation in a country. In countries where women lack political empowerment, the necessary structures to allow for equal participation in the workplace are usually missing. Female empowerment does not only refer to women’s rights and their participation in government and parliament, but also includes the absence of legal discrimination against women in all aspects of life.
In addition to gender equality, career opportunities and leave policies, there are several other factors that need to be considered when ranking the best countries for women. These include:
Work-life balance: Maternity and parental leave packages are one part of making sure women can combine their work with leisure time spent with their family. But flexible working hours and a short standard work week are equally important.
Safety: Whether it’s organized crime or the rate of domestic violence, feeling safe in the country one lives in is crucial.
Financial inclusion: Financial inclusion is another aspect where the gender gap persists. Yet, it’s crucial for women’s economic empowerment.
Access to education: Education is fundamental for professional development. Hence the need for equal access to education for both genders.
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There are several institutions and indices that rate countries in terms of gender equality, female empowerment, women’s participation and more. The most prominent rankings to have a look at when listing the best countries to work as a woman are:
The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report - global ranking based on various aspects of gender inequality, including economic participation, educational attainment, political empowerment and more
N26’s Female Opportunity Index - ranking based on access to education, parental leave, female leadership, participation in government, corporations, STEM and entrepreneurship, gender wage gap and more
Women Peace and Security (WPS) Index - ranking based on inclusion, justice and security
The United Nations Development Program’s Gender Inequality Index (GII) - ranking based on the dimensions reproductive health, empowerment and labor market
The following overview of the best countries to work as a woman is based on the findings and ratings of these four indices.
With a standard work week of only 37 hours and up to 50 weeks of combined maternity and parental leave, Denmark sets a good example when it comes to promoting work-life balance. But the country also performs well in terms of gender equality in both education and work - 99.03 out of 100 score for women’s participation in entrepreneurship, to name an example.
Furthermore, the country has implemented a wide range of anti-discrimation laws as well as requirements for gender pay gap reporting. And although Denmark is not among the Top 10 countries of the Global Gender Gap Report, the nation ranks 4th best country for women with regard to inclusion, justice and security.
Finland has a long-standing tradition when it comes to women’s political empowerment. As the first country in the world, Finland allowed women to become members of parliament in 1906, and the political inclusion of women continues to this day. Women’s participation in government is particularly high according to the latest Female Opportunity Index, and the country is rated the second safest in the world. Affordable childcare structures and a very long parental leave - 105 days of maternity leave, plus 158 days of parental leave - are further reasons that make Finland one of the best places for women to work.
According to the 2021 Global Gender Gap Report, Iceland is the most gender-equal country in the world - for the 12th time. Whether it’s women’s participation in corporate management, gender pay gap, access to education or political empowerment, Iceland scores high in everything related to gender equality. With around 26 weeks of maternity leave, the country is also quite generous towards women when it comes to family duties and work-life balance.
In a ranking of the world’s top countries for women to work in, New Zealand definitely shouldn’t be missing. Thanks to its efforts to reduce the gender gap, New Zealand now ranks 4th in the Global Gender Gap Report, with a particularly high score in women’s educational attainment. New Zealand’s labor law gives female employees the right to take 26 weeks of paid maternity leave - plus 10 days of additional leave for pregnancy-related appointments. Furthermore, women are entitled to 3 days of bereavement leave in case of miscarriage, as well as to 10 days of leave if they are victim of domestic violence. When it comes to women in entrepreneurship, New Zealand scored 99.94 out of 100 in the Female Opportunity Index 2021.
Rated third best in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report, Norway sure is a great place to work for women. Especially since a new law, which was introduced in 2020, requires public companies to have at least 40% women on their boards. What’s more, the country is highly supportive of women who are planning to start a family.
With 12 weeks of paid prenatal maternity leave, up to 34 weeks of paid postnatal childcare leave and a possible 12-month (unpaid) childcare leave extension, women are well-supported throughout pregnancy and the period following birth. In the Women Peace and Security Index 2021/2022, Norway takes the top rank, scoring high across all dimensions, including educational and financial inclusion and anti-discrimination legislation.
Sweden is often considered to be one of the best countries to live in. This positive perception of the country is backed up by the findings of the Global Gender Gap Report, which ranks Sweden as the 5th best country for gender equality. According to the data, more than 50% of the country’s firms have a female majority ownership. In terms of safety, inclusion and justice, Sweden currently ranks number 7 in the world.
Similar to the other Nordic countries, Sweden has a low gender pay gap, with women earning on average 9.8% less than their male counterparts. Pregnant women can take maternity and parental leave for a duration of up to 390 days, and women with children under 8 are allowed to reduce their standard working hours by 25%.
Switzerland is known for its stunning mountain landscapes and high wage levels, but it’s also a great country to work in as a woman. Voted 7th best country for women in a survey conducted by U.S. News, the country has many attributes that make it popular with female workers. The statutory maternity leave lasts for 14 weeks, and mothers can take up to 14 weeks of paid leave to look after a seriously ill child. What’s more, Switzerland is a country where women can feel safe in public places and where domestic violence rates are low.
Up until now, we’ve mainly focused on official international rankings and indices measuring political empowerment, workplace participation and more. But what about women’s perception on the matter? Which countries do women consider to be the ones offering them the best professional opportunities and experience in the workplace?
The results of the 2018 Expat Insider Survey conducted by Inter Nations paints a slightly different picture than the official gender equality rankings. Sure, the Nordics are also cited as popular destinations for female expats, but the survey also revealed some surprising destinations which were not necessarily top ranked by the World Economic Forum or in the Female Opportunity Index.
For instance, the Inter Nations survey found the Czech Republic, Bahrain and Taiwan to be the most popular countries among women working abroad. Reasons for the voting included great job security and career prospects, a good work-life balance and favorable working hours.
Another perception-based ranking of the best countries for women is the U.S. News’ 2021 Best Countries listing. Based on the responses of nearly 8,048 women and considering aspects such as gender and income equality, progress and safety, the ranking confirmed many of the top ranked countries for gender equality we’ve listed above, but also introduced some new destinations, including Canada, the Netherlands, Germany and Australia.
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