Leading Globally: Understanding Cultural Gender Equality

One of the most fundamental ways in which societies differ is the extent to which each prescribes different roles for women and men (Hofstede). Some societies seek to minimize gender role differences while others seek to maximize these differences. This blog focuses on gender equality and is installment 3 of an 8 part series designed to help you improve your global leadership skills.


The chart below illustrates some of the most common differences between cultures or individuals with high and low gender equality. At the bottom of this blog you will find a reference chart which provides specific results for the 62 countries in the GLOBE study.

Gender equality chart 1









An interesting conclusion of this study is that societies which have higher gender equality were more prosperous, had longer life expectancy and experienced greater overall life satisfaction. They also enjoyed higher standards of living and acquired greater levels of knowledge.

It is easy to look at this information and determine that we need to help low scoring countries improve their gender equality. However, those who have worked in different cultures understand that the approach of indoctrinating others with your beliefs is both rude and ineffective (something which is called ethnocentrism). Instead, I encourage you to use this information to change your thinking. If knowledge is truly power, then this knowledge should enable you to identify individuals or cultural gender equality and respond in ways which are both culturally sensitive and effective.

Earlier this year I blogged about my experience with ethnocentrism while in Indonesia (The Wrong Side of the Road). At the beginning of my visit I referred to driving on the left side of the road as “the wrong side of the road”. By the end of my trip, I learned a lesson about ethnocentrism and changed my language to “a different side of the road”.

Effective leaders must become cultural catalysts. They must be able to identify and appropriately respond to the different norms they find themselves in. Since the roles of men and women differ greatly around the world, the ability to identify gender equality is a critical skill for global leaders. Before you look at the list of countries below, take a guess about your national gender equity bias. Knowing where you stand is the first step in meeting others where they stand.

NOTE: The content above has been adapted from the seminal work on global leadership commonly called The GLOBE Leadership Study. It assessed 62 different countries and identified important cultural and leadership norms. The results of this massive research project provide us with a goldmine of information which helps us understand cultural differences.


Jeff SuHead Shotderman is a professor and consultant who works in the field of organizational development. He partners Gender equality chart 2with clients to improve leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and their FutureReadiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman


House, R., Hanges, P.J., Javidan, M, Dorfman, P.W., Gupta, V. (2004). Culture, leadership, and organizations: The GLOBE study of 62 societies. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage Publications.

Hofstede, G. (1980). Cultures consequences: International differences in work-related values. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.

The Problem with the Wrong Side of The Road: Eight Lessons for Global Leaders

My trip to South-East Asia taught me a major life lesson – there is a significant difference between ‘wrong’ and ‘different’. In Indonesia, vehicles drive on the left side of the road, the opposite of North America. While navigating  heavy traffic, I recall telling my wife that it was strange to drive “on the wrong side of the road”. Later that day I pondered my comment and questioned the assumptions that it carried. What makes the left side of the road ‘the wrong side’? Our cultures invisibly shape our perspective and beliefs. As we interact with people who see the world differently, we have a choice to see them as ‘wrong’ or ‘different’.

For the next two weeks I have the privilege of working with a client in Lithuania. As I prepared for my trip, I spent time reviewing the most extensive global leadership project to date, The GLOBE Leadership Study [1]. This extensive research project provides insights about how beliefs differ between 62 different countries around the world. The results summarize eight areas which are viewed very differently as we live, work and interact with different cultures.

1. Performance Orientation: This is the extent to which a community encourages and rewards innovation, high standards, and performance improvement. Some regions have a high performance orientation (Switzerland ) while other countries do not place much emphasis on this (Greece).

2. Future Orientation: Some countries place high value on the collective encouragement and reward of future oriented behaviors such as planning and delaying gratification (Singapore) while others do not (Russia).

3, Gender Egalitarianism: This is the extent to which we seek to minimize or maximize the differences between men and women. A country such as Russia has a very high level of gender equality while South Korea has a low score in egalitarianism

4. Assertiveness: This refers to beliefs as to whether people should be encouraged to be assertive, aggressive and tough, or nonassertive, nonaggressive, and tender in social relationships. The country of Nigeria has a high level of assertiveness while Switzerland has low assertiveness.

5. Individualism vs. Collectivism: Individualism pertains to ties between individuals which are loose while collectivism embraces the integration of strong, cohesive in-groups. Brazil is a highly individualistic nation while South Korea is a very collective culture.

6. Power Distance: This exemplifies the extent to which the community accepts and endorses authority, power differences and status privileges. Nigeria has a high power distance score while Denmark has a low score.

7. Humane Orientation: This category explains whether a society possesses the values of altruism, benevolence, kindness, love and generosity as motivating forces in a person’s behavior. The Philippines has a very high humane orientation while Germany scores low.

8. Uncertainty Avoidance: This is the extent to which ambiguous situations  are threatening to individuals, to which rules and orders are preferred and to which uncertainty is tolerated.  Switzerland has high uncertainty avoidance while Russia has low avoidance tendencies.

The ability to be a cultural catalyst is a skill which is increasing in demand in today’s global business world. The ability to understand and respond to major cultural differences such as the ones highlighted in the GLOBE study are essential skills for modern leaders!

[1] House, R., Hanges, P.J., Javidan, M., Dorfman, P.W., & Gupta, V. (2004). Culture, leadership, and organizations: The GLOBE study of 62 societies. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.