The Reykjavik Index for Leadership: The role of evidence on the journey to equality

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Mar 08, 2019
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This article is part of the Forum Network series on New Societal Contract 

International Women’s Day is an opportunity: to reflect on progress that has been made to reach equality for women and men, to assess how much further there is to go and to galvanize further support for change. It is an opportunity to celebrate the achievements made towards the attainment of the United Nations’ 2030 Sustainable Development Goals Agenda, namely goal 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.

Sustainable Development Goal 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls

Within the movement for equality between women and men, evidence is an essential tool for both social progress and the public policy to support it. Indeed, to further the cause of equality between men and women there is a need to understand values, perceptions and attitudes, the speed of change (or the failure to realise it) and the drivers and barriers towards a fairer world.

The Reykjavik Index for Leadership was created by Women Political Leaders and Kantar to support this journey to equality for women and for men. The first of its kind, the Index measures how people feel about women in leadership, assessing the perceived legitimacy of female and male leadership across 20 economic sectors and giving insight into how the views of women and men differ.

Women Political Leaders' Reykjavik Indes for Leadership

The Index was launched at the Women Leaders Global Forum in Reykjavik in November 2018, Women Political Leaders’ annual convening – a platform where women and men can discuss and share ideas and solutions on how to advance society, increase mutual equality between women and men to promote and positively develop the number of women in leadership positions.


Following productive and encouraging dialogues in Reykjavik, the Index was further discussed during events at the World Economic Forum annual conference in Davos, Switzerland. Political and business leaders expressed their support for the Index, the need for progress and the Index was named #BestOfDavos by the World Economic Forum. 

What is the Reykjavik Index for Leadership?

The Index began from an understanding for the need to document the social norms that societies operate within – the everyday beliefs and behaviours of men and women and the barriers to change – to support the movement for fairness and equality.

There are many valuable, powerful indices that measure progress in economic and participatory equality for men and women. However, there were no measures of how people feel about men and women in leadership roles.

Clockwise from top: Toni Morrison, Madeleine Albright, Angela Merkel & Malala Yousafzai
Clockwise from top: Toni Morrison, Madeleine Albright, Angela Merkel & Malala Yousafzai

Thus, the Reykjavik Index for Leadership, and the wider study behind it, analyse attitude and perception in order to understand how much further we must go until being a man or a woman is a non-issue when debating someone's suitability for leadership.

The Index runs from 0 to 100; a score of 100 means that across society, there is complete agreement that men and women are equally suited to leadership in all sectors.

The G7: headlines

The G7 Reykjavik Index for Leadership Findings

The average Reykjavik Index for Leadership for the seven OECD nations in our launch year is 66. The Index scores divide the countries into two groups. First, a group of four that have higher indices: the UK (72), France (71), Canada (71), and the USA (70). The higher scores in these nations are an indication that progress is happening.

There is then a group of three which are a step below: Japan (61), Germany (59) and Italy (57). Relative to those in the other G7 countries, people in these nations are more likely to think women and men are unequally suited to leadership positions generally.  

Dissonance between men and women

Across the G7 nations, the Reykjavik Index for Leadership score is higher for women than for men, with an average score of 67 for women and 61 for men. This indicates that women in the G7 are more likely than men to view women and men as equally suitable for leadership roles. This can be seen within every individual G7 nation and in each of the 20 sectors researched.

This difference in scores – what we refer to as the dissonance – illuminates some of the tensions and barriers at play in the G7 nations, not only in the workplace but also at home and across communities.

Sector variation

Sector variation in attitudes to leadership in G7 countries

People in the G7 were asked about suitability for leadership across these 20 economic sectors, from healthcare to banking, engineering to childcare.

Encouragingly, the Index score is above 75 for some STEM careers: natural sciences, pharmaceutical and medical research; economics and political science; and banking and finance. These relatively higher scores may be a result of the investments into STEM education and employment for women and girls.

Photo by STEMShare NSW on Unsplash

And yet, stereotypes about leadership are seen to be perpetuated in other sectors. Childcare (44), fashion and beauty (46) and defence and police (51) are the three lowest scoring sectors, with men and women more less likely to think that they are equally suited to lead in these industries.

The Reykjavik Index for Leadership is a powerful tool to not only understand stereotypes about women’s roles but also men’s, and what a “suitable” career is for a man.

In focus: Germany and Japan

The wider Index study evaluated how comfortable people felt with a woman as a CEO of a major national company or as the head of their government; two G7 and OECD nations stood out in the Index’s first year, revealing strong issues with who is deemed suitable to lead.

Reykjavik Index for Leadership Country Profile - Japan

In Japan, only 1 in 5 men (21%) state they feel “very comfortable” with a woman as CEO of a major domestic company. This is also true for 3 in 10 Japanese women (28%). 

Reykjavik Index for Leadership Country Profile - Germany

Only 1 in 4 people in Angela Merkel’s Germany feel “very comfortable” with a woman as head of government, meaning 3 in 4 people do not feel very comfortable with this, making a woman as head of government an issue for them.

In this case the Index reveals, beyond participatory measures of boardrooms and parliaments, how much further we have to go to achieve real equality and opportunity.

Evidence’s role on the journey to equality

The Index is a powerful new piece of research into the tensions and stereotypes obstructing complete equality. And yet, it also documents the real progress in some of the G7 nations in terms of opportunity equality for men and women.

We can see where women are more progressive in their views of women and men being equally suitable to lead. We can see sectors where equality is more of a social norm, and the sectors where sexist stereotypes endure.

As we come together to celebrate International Women’s Day, it is an opportunity to celebrate progress made, and galvanise support for what is left to be done. The Index will help us to understand how we can progress faster, with the ultimate goal of seeing attitudes about men and women in leadership reach equality, to the benefit of all.

Women Leaders Global Forum, November 26-28, 2018 Rejkjavik, Iceland

Moving forward

  • How can business leaders deliver equity for women and men in positions of leadership?
  • How can policy makers deliver this equity?
  • Can the investment in STEM education and employment be replicated in other sectors to achieve equality in perceptions of leadership suitability?

The Forum Network is your space to tell us what you think about the issues that matter to you – all of the conversations that you have here inform our thinking for the physical OECD Forum event each year so comment below to help us co-create the agenda!

About WPL

Women Political Leaders (WPL) is the global network of female politicians. The mission of WPL is to increase both the number and the influence of women in political leadership positions. WPL members are women in political office – Presidents, Prime Ministers, Cabinet Ministers, Members of Parliaments, Mayors. Membership is free and members are honoured by their participation. WPL strives in all its activities to demonstrate the impact of more women in political leadership, for the global better. 

About Women Leaders Global Forum

Women Leaders Global Forum is co-hosted by WPL and the Government and Parliament of Iceland. The inaugural Forum will be held in Reykjavik, 26-26 November 2018. The Forum’s mission is to provide a platform where women leaders discuss and share ideas and solutions on how to further advance society, increase gender equality and promote and positively develop the number of women in leadership positions. The event will feature keynote speakers, all internationally recognised for their contribution to advancing society and there will be 400 invitation-only delegates from over 100 countries.

About Kantar

Kantar is one of the world’s leading data, insight and consultancy companies. Working together across the whole spectrum of research and consulting disciplines, its specialist brands, employing 30,000 people, provide inspirational insights and business strategies for corporations and governments in 100 countries. Kantar is part of WPP and its services are employed by over half of the Fortune Top 500 companies.

Related Topics

Gender Equality
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Silvana Koch-Mehrin

Founder and President, Women Political Leaders

Silvana is the President and Founder of the Women Political Leaders (WPL), the worldwide network of female Politicians. WPL is an independent, non-partisan and not-for-profit foundation. Its mission is increase the number and influence of women in political leadership. Silvana is a former Vice-President of the European Parliament (2009-2011) and a former MEP (2004-2014). She served in the committees on budget, on trade and on gender equality. Before her time in politics she founded and ran a public affairs consultancy in Brussels, which later merged with a larger US firm. In addition to her work for WPL, Silvana acts as Senior Advisor to EY Ernst & Young, Senior Policy Advisor to gplus europe, and provides guidance on EU regulatory issues to a range of companies and governments. She is a regular speaker at institutions such as the UN, OECD, World Bank and other international fora. With her three kids and their Irish father she lives in Brussels, Belgium.

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