The Reykjavík Index for Leadership 2020-2021, How do we support equality in society and in leadership?

Friday, March 12, 2021
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Perceptions and stereotypes lead to prejudices against women, deepening inequalities across every aspect of society, government, and business. When stereotypes endure, everyone is impacted. The recent findings of the Reykjavík Index for Leadership 2020-2021, a unique and powerful tool that measures the perceptions of equality for women and men in leadership, reveal that society has not become more progressive in how it views women in leadership.

To address this sobering evidence, WPL and Kantar Public convened a panel of political leaders and decision-makers who discussed the latest findings of the Index. Moderated by Lucia de Luca, Managing Director of WPL, this digital conversation provided a space for sharing actions and solutions to move us toward societies with more equal opportunities. 

“If what we seek is the perfect day to start supporting equality in society and in leadership, I think that today is that day – the 8th of March – International Women’s Day,” said Ms. de Luca. “It’s a perfect time for reflecting on the role of women as leaders.”

The panel commemorated International Women’s Day and focused on the theme of achieving an equal future in a post-COVID world. The pandemic has deepened inequalities and taken a devastating social and economic toll on women and girls. Now more than ever, the findings of the Index represent an important tool to help shape sustainable pathways leading to equal opportunities for all.

Presenting the latest edition of the Reykjavík Index was Michelle Harrison, Global CEO of Kantar Public, who explained the various scores and what they meant for men and women in different fields and countries.

For example, Ms. Harrison remarked how “You can see higher scores in the Index more women progressing toward specific sectors but in childcare there’s a low score for men.” 

Although prior evidence has shown that men and women have been expressing less prejudice toward women in leadership, younger generations did not show progress in that regard.

Younger women ages 18-34 have a lower Reykjavík score than older women ages 55-65. What that means is that older women carry less prejudice toward female leaders than younger women. When we look at men, we see the same pattern. Older men carry less prejudice toward female leaders than younger men.”

The results are a somber indication of the biases that persist globally.

“We know that myths and stereotypes can be really enduring in society. If they weren’t, we wouldn’t need International Women’s Day. What keeps these myths and stereotypes alive in our societies? And what do we need to do to break them down, so we can raise young people to come through?” asked Ms. Harisson of the panellists.

Inquiring as to evidence of younger generations lagging in their perceptions of women in power, Lucia de Luca asked,

“How do the findings on young people in the Reykjavík Index align with social trends you’ve seen?” 

Also participating in the discussion was James Bell, Vice President of global strategy at Pew Research Center.

“We found that majorities, especially in the G7 countries, said that gender equality is very important. But when it comes to this ‘institute of generation’ or age group, age didn’t really show up as a major factor. Meaning young people were not showing up as more progressive or more eager to see gender equality than older cohorts, Mr. Bell remarked. 

2020 proved a significant year in many ways, marked by social turbulence and with a striking absence of progress in numerous regards, as reported in the findings of the Reykjavík Index. Reflecting on this evidence, Senator Marilou McPhedran of Canada demonstrated how specific policies could be put in place to create opportunities for young people to feel more empowered in the building of an equitable society. 

Implementing outreach strategies and engagement programs, Senator McPhedran developed several platforms for young citizens to learn about policies and be heard by decision makers. 

Referencing these programs, Senator McPhedran said they provide “a strong bridge between their daily lives and the kind of work we do as parliamentarians and lawmakers, she continued, “The Canadian Council of Young Feminists have become the leaders of today [after having been] denied many of the tools that the rest of us have to contribute to our society.”

The findings of the Index provide a clear target: to help all generations understand the importance and value of women’s participation. As indicated in the Reykjavík Manuala living guide supplying simple, concrete, action steps so that leaders at every level can strengthen their pursuit towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals in their communities. Built on the open conversations about the prejudices faced by women and girls, it challenges men and women to become ambassadors of change for their generation.

Reflecting on how younger generations can shape the societies of the future, Senator Sylvia Kasanga of Kenya spoke of how stereotypes have impacted her community.

With more than half the population aged 24 and younger, “our cultural practices play a critical role. Even in gender-based bias, we haven’t dealt with our cultural practices.” Senator Kasanga noted how the social progress organisation Girl2Leader found that most role models for youths “are their mothers and their teachers, but something changes when they leave school and enter the workforce. You find biases come from the environment we live in for instance the media, in how they craft the conversation of women in leadership.”

Great emphasis was put on the significance of perceptions. Manifesting in numerous ways, perceptions deepen inequalities across every aspect of society, government, and business. 

Given the disportionate negative economic impacts that COVID-19 has meant for women, as well as new findings of a growing ‘shadow pandemic’ of violence against women, the results of the Index serve as an important reminder and a source upon which leaders around the world can base concrete actions to promote equality for women and girls across all recovery efforts. 

The findings of the Reykjavík Index for Leadership 2020-2021 can be viewed at: