The top countries for women’s opportunities are revealed

UK comes fourth on new ranking, while UAE scores highly for number of women entrepreneurs

Norway gives women the best access to equal opportunities and career advancement globally, while Estonia offers the longest maternity leave, with 1,162 days for new working mothers, a new ranking found.

While Norway scored highly across all categories in the ranking of 100 countries, particularly on female political representation, corporate leadership and women’s legislation, Finland and Iceland took second and third positions respectively, according to the Female Opportunity Index 2021 from German digital bank N26.

Meanwhile, Estonia offers more than three years of maternity leave, along with Slovakia and Finland, which came in close second and third positions, with 1,148 days and 1,127 days respectively.

“For many women, financial independence is the only means through which they can determine how they want to live, and yet it often comes at the expense of being the primary care-giver and having the lion’s share of domestic duties at home,” said Adrienne Gormley, chief operating officer at N26.

“Coupled with the gender salary wage gap that continues to be a huge impediment to female earnings, there are still many more obstacles for women who want to achieve the level of success men take for granted.”

Women's careers have been more adversely affected than men's during the coronavirus pandemic, with female jobs 1.8 times more vulnerable to this crisis than men's jobs globally, at 5.7 per cent versus 3.1 per cent, according to management consultancy McKinsey. While women make up 39 per cent of global employment, they also account for 54 per cent of overall job losses as the virus increases the domestic burden.

In the N26 ranking, the UK came in fourth position overall, scoring in the top 10 for the number of women in managerial positions and for female access to education. It was also in the top 30 for maternity leave, offering new mothers of 273 days.

While the UAE came 79th overall, it scored in the top 20 for the number of women in entrepreneurial roles with a score of 95.4 out of 100, and ranked 28th with a score of 93.8 for the number of women in government roles.

It was near the bottom of the ranking on maternity leave, with only 45 days of statutory leave offered. However, this only applies to the private sector, as women working in UAE government departments are given 90 days of paid leave and, depending on which emirate they live in, are allowed more time in unpaid leave.

Rwanda has the most women in government positions, followed by Spain and Finland, while Sweden has the most women in top management positions. The US has the most female entrepreneurs and Japan has the highest score for female access to education.

Sri Lanka has had the most years with a female head of government, followed by Norway and India.

“There has been a lot of discussion about the fact that female-led countries performed better than male-led ones during the height of the first Covid-19 wave. This has been attributed to ... better communication and more lateral thinking, however, the ultimate outcome is that countries with female leaders managed better during the peak of the crisis,” said Ms Gormley.

The countries included in the N26 study, which analysed political leadership, careers, pay equality and support, were chosen due to their availability of data on women in the workplace and their inclusion in the World Economic Forum's Gender Gap Report 2020.

Singapore secured the top spot for women's salaries and gender pay equality and for the number of women in Stem (science, technology, engineering and maths) roles.