Globalization Is Good for Women

Firms with international reach tend to employ more women—though top management positions are still dominated by men.

GLOBALIZATION PROVIDES OPPORTUNITIES for gender equality in employment, according to new research by Vienna University of Economics and Business (WU). WU researchers Alyssa Schneebaum and Carolina Lennon found that firms that export or are owned by parent companies abroad have a higher female share of full-time, permanent employees than firms that are active only n their national markets. This was especially apparent for exporters with customers in countries with equal gender norms—these companies employed 6 percent to 7 percent more female employees.

“What we see here is a ‘race to the top,’ meaning that global firms adopt more equal hiring practices compared to nonglobal firms if they interact commercially with more gender-equal economies. There seems to be no evidence of a race to the bottom—that is, gender inequality isn’t imported through commercial links with gender-unequal countries,” says Schneebaum.

However, the percentage of women employees at these companies only increases at the lower and middle levels of the organization—exposure to gender equal norms has no effect on top management positions. In fact, being internationally oriented correlates to a negative effect on the probability of a firm having a female in top management positions with exporters 3.9 percent less likely to have a female in charge.

“These results show how commercial trade serves as a medium through which gender norms can be transmitted across countries. However, we do find that for more prestigious jobs, it will take more than just commercially based exposure to norms of equality to get more women into management positions,” says Schneebaum.

The study analyzed data administered by the Enterprise Analysis Unit of the World Bank from 2006 2014. The data pertained to 30,000 firms in more than 100 developing and emerging economies.

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