Culture and context matter: gender in international business and management

Lorraine Eden (Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas, USA)
Susan Forquer Gupta (Leon Hess Business School, Monmouth University, West Long Branch, New Jersey, USA)

Cross Cultural & Strategic Management

ISSN: 2059-5794

Article publication date: 2 May 2017




The purpose of this paper is to argue that culture and context (policy and environment) are key factors affecting gender inequalities within and across countries.


This paper applies conceptual and descriptive statistics.


The authors found evidence of increasing gender equality in the workplace, but only for rich countries. Gender inequalities persist in the poorest countries, and the gap between rich and poor countries appears to be widening not narrowing.

Research limitations/implications

This paper demonstrates the need for a comprehensive research program on gender and international business.

Practical implications

The authors provided useful statistics that could possibly be picked up by newspapers. The paper also highlights the need for a more sustained research program on gender and development.

Social implications

This paper demonstrates that the public perception of increasing gender equality applies only in very high development (rich) countries. In fact, gender inequality rises as economic development levels decline across countries, and the gap between very high and low countries has widened over the past 15 years.


The empirical findings with respect to gender inequality across United Nations Development Program country categories over time are, to the best of the authors’ knowledge, novel and original. Relating the gender inequality gap to culture and context highlights the roles that social issues and the environment play in affecting gender inequality across countries and across time.



Eden, L. and Gupta, S.F. (2017), "Culture and context matter: gender in international business and management", Cross Cultural & Strategic Management, Vol. 24 No. 2, pp. 194-210.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited


The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development defines gender equality as requiring that: “women and men enjoy the same rights and opportunities across all sectors of society, including economic participation and decision-making, and […] the different behaviours, aspirations and needs of women and men are equally valued and favoured” (United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, 2016, p. 31). The causes of gender inequality are many; perhaps the most cited reasons are direct discrimination, undervaluing of women’s work, segregation in the labor market (both horizontal and vertical), traditions and stereotypes, and difficulty balancing work and private life (United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, 2014, p. 4).

We argue the reasons for differences in gender equality both within and across countries can be summarized as culture and context matter. Underlying the differences in gender inequality across countries are cross-cultural differences in terms of societal acceptance and support for changing the roles and expectations of women and men. Cultural differences are nested in socially constructed institutions that create the environment where gender inequalities are fostered and perpetuated. Culture and environment may be slow to change, but government policies can move quickly to provide a regulatory framework that supports – or restricts – women’s advancement and movement toward gender equality. Institutions and government policies form the context, which together with culture, provide the key explanatory variables behind gender inequality.

In this introductory article to Cross-Cultural and Strategic Management’s special issue on “Gender in international business and management,” we first examine cross-country differences in gender equality using two well-known statistical measures: the Gender Inequality Index (GII) and the Global Gender Gap Index (GGGI). We find evidence of slow improvement in gender equality over time, but a large gap still remains and may be growing larger between rich and poor countries. Country-level statistical comparisons are useful, but can hide the roles that culture and context (institutions and government policies) play within countries. We therefore supplement our empirical work with brief vignettes of individual countries. We then turn to the articles in this special issue, highlighting the contributions that each piece makes to our understanding of gender in international business and management. We conclude with a call for a more sustained research program by management and international business scholars that focuses on the linkages among gender, culture and context.

Gender inequality: what can statistics tell us?

In March 2013, The Economist began publishing an annual Glass Ceiling Index (GCI). The GCI is an attempt to measure a woman’s likelihood of equal opportunity in the workplace, within Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) member countries (The Economist, 2013, 2014a, b, 2015b, 2016a, b). The index includes nine measures that capture not only workforce participation and educational attainment gaps, but support systems such as maternity leave policies and child care costs[1]. Scandinavian countries lead the index with lowest gaps between males and females in educational attainment, pay and senior positions held, supported by strong systems of leave for parental concerns and quotas for women on boards. Lagging on the list are countries such as Japan, South Korea and Turkey with the large gaps between men and women in the workforce and education measures. Table I shows the OECD average for each component of the GCI, together with average country score for the highest and lowest scoring countries and the USA, for 2014-2016. The GCI has not been without controversy; for example, Feminist Critics (2015) argues the index ignores adverse situations affecting men. Still, the index has been useful for pointing to the critical role that support structures such as parental leave, subsidized child care, and access to education can play as explanatory variables for understanding why progress occurs in some countries while others stagnate.

Measuring how close or far countries are in terms of gender equality has been the primary goal behind the creation of gender inequality indices. These measures used to be rare, but “have proliferated in recent years” (Stotsky et al., 2016, p. 43). One reason for the recent proliferation has been greater availability of worldwide data sets making it feasible to perform the country-level calculations. A second motivation has been the inclusion of gender equality in the 2000 Millennium Development Goals (United Nations, 2015b) and the 2015 Sustainable Development Goals (United Nations, 2015c), which created a political imperative for measuring country-level progress toward this goal and its targets. With UN support for reducing gender inequalities, government policies also began to change at the national level with the outcomes now being tracked in these gender inequality indices.

In addition to The Economist’s GCI, there are at least five other well-known indices of gender inequality. We list the five below together with the organization responsible for the index and the year when the index became annually available:

  1. Gender Development Index – United Nations Development Program (UNDP) – 1995; revised and reissued in 2014;

  2. GII – UNDP –2010;

  3. Gender Parity Score – (McKinsey Global Institute, 2015);

  4. GGGI – World Economic Forum (WEF) –2006; and

  5. Social Indicators and Gender Index – OECD – 2009.

Below, we use two of these inequality indices – the UNDP’s Global Inequality Index (GII) and WEF’s GGGI – to examine cross-country differences in progress toward gender equality since 2000. How far have we come? How far do we still need to go[2]?


Of the various gender inequality indices, perhaps the best known and most used is the GII introduced in 2010 by the UNDP. The GII measures gender disadvantage or inequality in three areas of human development: reproductive health (maternal mortality ratios and adolescent fertility rates), empowerment (share of parliamentary seats and education attainment at the secondary level by gender), and economic opportunity (labor force participation rates by gender). The GII ranges between 0 (no difference by gender) and 1 (maximum difference by gender)[3].

Table II reports the GII scores for the years 2000-2014. The world average GII score fell from 0.432 in 2000 to 0.366 in 2014. Since complete gender equity is recorded as 0 on the GII scale, the table suggests that there was progress toward gender equality over the 2000-2014 period, but that the gap remains large even in 2014. Thus, progress has been achieved, but much still remains to be done.

The UNDP also publishes a broader measure of overall development, the Human Development Index (HDI). Country HDI scores are used to cluster countries into four groupings (very high, high, medium and low) representing levels of human development. Scandinavian countries, not surprisingly, rank high on both the GII and HDI indices. The UNDP calculates GII scores for individual countries and for country HDI groupings. The UNDP argues that the GII measures the human development costs of gender inequality, that is, the loss in potential human development due to inequality between female and males on these three dimensions. The higher the GII value the more disparities between females and males and the greater the loss in human development (United Nations Development Program (UNDP), 2015).

Table II provides some evidence of the correlation between the GII and HDI measures. Using the United Nations Development Program (UNDP)’s individual GII scores for five years (2000, 2005, 2010, 2013, 2014), we calculated the world average GII score and the average GII score for each of the four country groupings into which the UNDP classifies countries based on their HDI: very high, high, medium and low. We also calculated the gap in GII scores between the low and very high HDI country groups, both as a raw score and as a ratio. Lastly, we calculated the gap for each HDI country group between the original year (2000) and the most recent year (2014) score, both as a raw score and as percentage of the original year. Lower scores in Table II reflect greater equality between males and females; negative numbers represent improved performance in terms of gender equality.

Looking across the rows first at the trends over time in Table II, we see that the GII score for very high HDI countries fell from 0.211 in 2000 to 0.150 in 2014. That is a drop of 0.061 points; that is, gender equality in the rich countries has improved by nearly 30 percent since 2000. The same improvement was shown in high HDI countries. Starting from a GII of 0.493 in 2000, their score improved fell to 0.346 by 2014, a drop of 0.147 points or nearly a 30 percent improvement in gender equality. This “good news” story, however, was less impressive in the medium and low HDI countries where the raw scores were much worse and the gains in gender equality smaller. For example, the GII score for low HDI countries improved only from 0.675 in 2000 to 0.593 in 2014, which is a fall of 0.082 points or a percentage drop of 12 percent. Thus, the real gains in gender equality, when one looks over time since 2000 have occurred mostly in high income countries, at least as measured by the GII. For medium and low income countries, the gains in gender equality occurred more slowly.

Looking down the columns for any year in Table II, as we move from the very high HDI country group down to the low HDI country group, the average GII for the country group fell, indicating worse performance in terms of gender equality. For example, in 2000 the GII score for very high HDI countries was 0.211; for low HDI countries it was 0.675. The point gap between the low and very high HDI groups was 0.464, which is a huge difference, larger even that the world average that year of 0.432. The large point gap difference is reflected in the ratio of the GII scores; the GII score for low HDI countries was 3.194 times the score for very high HDI countries. Thus, in 2000 gender inequality was approximately three times higher in very poor countries compared to very rich countries. Comparing the gaps in raw scores and as a ratio across the time periods, it is clear that gender equality improvements were primarily a rich country story. The raw score gap between very high and low HDI countries was basically stuck at about 0.44 points (the GII for low HDI countries was 0.44 points higher than for very high HDI countries). Moreover, the ratio of low HDI to very high HDI countries rose over the time period, from 3.194 in 2000 to 3.452 in 2014. Thus, gender inequality is now nearly four times higher in poor countries compared to rich countries. This is not a “good news” story, but rather a sobering one since gender inequality has implications for economic development.

Econometric evidence for the linkage between gender inequality and economic development is provided in Gonzales et al. (2015). The authors regress country GII scores against economic growth, measured by percentage change in GDP per capita, for the years 1990-2010. After controlling for other determinants of economic growth, the authors find that a 0.1 reduction in GII is associated with nearly 1 percentage point higher economic growth (Gonzales et al. 2015, p. 8). Thus, a reduction in gender inequality has a strong positive relationship with economic growth. The authors also find that gender inequality exacerbates income inequalities within countries and that different aspects of gender inequality matter for different country groups. Overall, on a worldwide basis, they find that gender gaps in labor force participation and education are the most important gender factors affecting income inequality. However, in rich countries, because gender gaps in access to education and health are near zero the labor force participation gap is the most important gender factor affecting income inequality. In poor countries, on the other hand, gender gaps in opportunities in education and health are also important drivers of income inequality (Gonzales et al. 2015, p. 24).


Perhaps the second most commonly reported index of gender inequality is the WEF’s GGGI. The data set started in 2006 and is updated yearly. The GGGI captures four components of gender disparity: economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment. The GGGI measures gender-based gaps in terms of access to resources and opportunities, not the actual levels of resources and opportunities. Gender gaps are scored according to proximity to gender equality, 1 (no gap) to 0 (maximum gap); that is, reverse scoring to the GII.

In 2016, the worldwide overall average GGGI score was 0.68. Since the GGGI records gender equality as 1, this result echoes the story reported by UNDP’s GII: there is still a large gender gap worldwide in 2016 so more remains to be done. The GGGI worldwide average component scores for 2016 were: economic participation and opportunity (0.59), educational attainment (0.95), health and survival (0.96) and political empowerment (0.23) (World Economic Forum (WEF), 2016, p. 8). For two components (economic participation and opportunity, and political empowerment) a large gender gap still remains.

However, for the other two components (educational attainment and health and survival) almost all (95+percent) of the gender gap has been eliminated. Thus, near gender parity in educational attainment, which was the 2000 UN’s Millennium Development Goal, has been achieved, as measured by the GGGI[4]. For example, the educational attainment component ranks 32 countries as having a GGGI of 1 (perfect equality); the list includes many OECD countries but also developing countries such as Botswana, Honduras, Lesotho and Nicaragua.

The five best performing countries in 2016 on the overall GGGI were Iceland (0.874), Finland (0.845), Norway (0.842), Sweden (0.815) and Rwanda (0.800) (WEF, 2016, p. 10). The USA scored 45th on the list with an overall GGGI of 0.722; its subcomponent rankings were economic participation and opportunity (26), educational attainment (1), health and survival (62) and political empowerment (48) (WEF, 2016, p. 10). The rankings for the individual components can be quite surprising and counterintuitive. For example, the highest ranked countries on the economic participation and opportunity component of the GGGI are very poor countries and tax havens (Burundi, Lao PDR, Bahamas, Barbados, Belarus and Botswana); the first ranked OECD country is Norway at 7th, which is followed by Rwanda (WEF, 2016, p. 12).

To look more closely at the relationship between GGGI and economic development, we gathered the available GGGI data for 2006-2016 and linked the countries in the GGGI data set with their UNDP HDI groupings. We calculated averages for the four HDI country groupings and performed the same calculations as in Table II. Our results are reported in Table III.

Table III shows that the overall GGGI rose between 2006 and 2016 from 0.663 to 0.695. Since the GGGI records 1 for gender equality, this is an improvement of 0.032 points or 4.833 percent. This improvement was reflected in all four HDI country groupings. The largest gain (nearly 11 percent) occurred in the lowest HDI group, which moved from a GGGI of 0.601 in 2006 to 0.646 in 2016. Looking down the columns, the point gap between low HDI and very high HDI countries also fell over the period, from 0.09 in 2006 to 0.058 in 2016, measured in absolute value terms. The GGGI ratio for low HDI to very high HDI countries rose over the period, from 0.87 in 2006 to 0.920 in 2016, indicating that that the gap between low and very high HDI groupings narrowed over the period. Thus, the gender gap between rich and poor countries appears to be fairly small and has narrowed over the 2006-2016 period.

The differences in the country-grouping results between Table II (the GII) and Table III (the GGGI) are somewhat surprising. Table II (GII index) shows a large gap between rich and poor countries in terms of gender equality, one that is widening over time. Table III (GGGI), on the other hand, shows a small gender equality gap that is narrowing over time. Both indices are on a scale of 1 (although they reverse code equality) so the different sizes and trends of the gap between rich and poor countries on the two indexes are disconcerting.

As a possible explanation for the different outcomes of the two indexes, we look briefly at one country that scores high on the GGGI but low on the GII: Rwanda. In 2016 Rwanda had an overall GGGI score of 0.800 (rank=5th worldwide) based on the following component scores: economic participation and opportunity (0.817, rank=8th), educational attainment (0.948, rank=110th), health and survival (0.972, rank=89th) and political empowerment (0.452, rank – 8th). Rwanda’s GIII score in 2014, on the other hand, was 0.400, placing it 163rd worldwide, which is a huge drop relative to Rwanda’s GGGI rank. United Nations Development Program (UNDP) (2013) in a note on Rwanda explains that the GII includes both development and empowerment measures of gender equality, and measures the loss in human development generated by gender inequality. UNDP (2013, p. 3) positions Rwanda as “below the average for countries in the law HDI group and below the average for countries in Sub-Saharan Africa.”

To understand the difference in Rwanda’s GII and GGGI scores, we turn to Abbott and Malunda (2016) who note that after the 1994 genocide, the Rwanda government implemented several policies promoting gender equality and empowering women. These policy and politics reforms may explain Rwanda’s high GGGI component scores for economic participation and opportunity and political empowerment. The authors agree that the legal reforms and political representation favoring gender equality were “an essential first step and are now for the most part in place” (p. 579). However, Abbott and Malunda argue that this “first step” has not translated into real progress for women, for two reasons. One reason is the administrative gap between policy adoption and policy implementation, which is a common problem in developing countries. The more important reason has been “the deep-rooted social norms and practices within which gender inequalities are embedded” (p. 580). Thus, policy changes (context) have not been successful at overcoming deep-seated institutional and cultural impediments to gender equality in Rwanda.

Our brief look at Rwanda suggest that the GII may be a better measure for capturing gender inequalities than the GGGI in terms of human development. If this is the case, then the large and widening gap between rich and poor countries is a real and present problem. Our brief look also suggests that more research is needed to better understand the linkages between gender inequality and human development, as measured by the UNDP HDI.


Despite the proliferation of gender equality indices, there is still much that can be done to improve the quality, quality and reliability of country-level gender-based data. Longer time series data sets are clearly needed. Buvinic et al. (2014) and Stotsky et al. (2016) provide useful comparisons across the extant data sets and indices.

A key issue for these researchers is whether the index should focus on gender equality or female disadvantage. Indices based on gender gaps do not distinguish whether the gap favors males or females; a negative gap for males is treated the same as a negative gap for females. Buvinic and Levine (2015) highlight some of the problems and costs that bad data and no data on women and girls can lead to in terms of public policies and outcomes. Based on their comparison of several of the indices, Stotsky et al. (2016, pp. 42-43) conclude that gender indices have strengths in that they provide “a broader picture” and “an objective view of how countries are doing.” The indices also have limitations in that “the results are dependent on the choice of variables, and weighting and aggregation schemes.”

We highlight one area where we believe more research on gender inequality and human development would be useful. Both the GII and GGGI focus primarily on women in the workplace and do not incorporate measures of violence against women as reflected, for example, in forced marriages, gender-selective abortions, human trafficking, and sexual violence in armed conflicts. For indexes that incorporate measures of violence against women, one must turn to the WomanStat database, which focuses on women from a security perspective[5]. The database includes, for example, an Inequity in Family Law Index and a Physical Security of Women Index. In a recent assessment of gender equity in terms of the UN Millennium Goals, Hudson (2015) finds a mix of “good news” (plummeting maternal mortality, a disappearing primary education gap, and greater women’s participation in government) and “bad news” (spreading preference for sons and abnormal male-female sex ratios, inequitable family law that favors males, and rising violence against women). She reports that the worldwide average score on the Physical Security of Women Index is a depressing 3.22 out of 4 and getting higher, where 4 is worst and 0 is best. Hudson concludes that “the challenges of making women’s empowerment a high priority are steep in a world structured around men holding the lion’s share of power and wealth – in a context where they are willing to use violence to maintain that prerogative.” Hudson’s analysis suggests that indexes of gender equality must take violence against women into account if these indexes are to be better linked to human development.

Looking behind the statistics: country vignettes

The wide differences in gender equality across countries, highlighted in our analysis above, point to underlying cross-cultural differences in terms of societal acceptance and support for changing the expectations of women and men. Looking at country scores is very useful for comparison purposes, but understanding gender inequality requires going below the macro level of cross-country comparisons to examine more granular, in-country studies. Below we provide a few country vignettes, selected from each of the HDI country groups, which are designed to highlight the roles of culture and context.

The USA ranked 8th on the UNDP’s HDI in 2014; the USA drops to 55th, however, on the GII. The explanation for the gap in the HDI vs GII rankings for the USA lies in its high rates of death in complications due to childbirth and high rates of childhood pregnancy. It is evident that longevity, education and economic prosperity (the basis of the HDI) do not directly indicate gender equality. The roles, traditions, regulations and support systems to allow gender equality have to be in place and flexible enough for it to occur. Whether via generational shifts in attitude, technological advancement, or changes in the competitive environment that impact the workforce, change will occur but only if barriers to change are lowered or overcome.

The USA has seen generational shifts in acceptance of women in the workforce and career advancement. However, the country lags most of Europe in support systems such as parental leave, subsidized child care, and regulations for gender representation on boards. Even with the percentage of two full-time employed parent households in the USA reaching 46 percent there are gaps in pay, and traditional roles regarding household chores, child care, aging parent care and career focus that work to undermine gender equality (Pew Research Center, 2015) and restrict career advancement. Even though there are 4-6 percent more Generation X and Millennial women in the USA with bachelor’s degrees than men of the same generation, there are up to 10 percent fewer women than men in full-time employment for those same generations (Pew Research Center, 2015). Decisions regarding who will stay home to raise the children are fraught with societal pressure and high childcare expense; while there is an increase in “stay at home” fathers, this is still considered an exception to normal roles. Even with nearly half of households in the USA with dual full-time working parents, the expectations regarding traditional mother and father roles have been slow to change. This results in higher percentages of women forgoing career advancement over men with families due to the unequal burdens of child, parent and household care, which traditionally fall upon women’s shoulders.

There are also serious regional differences within the USA in terms of gender equality. For example, WalletHub (2017) scored the best states for women in 2017 in terms of economic and social well-being and health and safety with 100 as the maximum score. The range was huge, with Minnesota (score=78.37) at the top and Mississippi (score=34.01) at the bottom. These sub-national variations reflect different levels of economic development, cultures and contexts across the USA. For example, there are major differences in government policies at the state level in areas such as social and healthcare services (affecting maternal mortality) and sex education and availability of contraception (affecting unplanned pregnancies).

Japan ranked 20th on the HDI and 26th on the GII in 2014, and 111th on the GGGI in 2015 (Mie and Thomas, 2016). In Japan, the cultural expectation of the mother caring for the children and family over her own ability to work and advance a career reduces the number of women in the workforce even though women have access to college education and advanced training. Women work until they marry and then they quit the workforce, raise children and tend the household chores (The Economist, 2014b). There is little support for women who wish to pursue a career, and many who do so remain single and childless. While Japan is a mature and comparatively rich society, the strong cultural traditions are barriers to women’s equality in the workforce.

In 2014, China ranked 90th on the HDI (putting it in the high human development group) and 40th on the GII. This places China below the US and Japan on the HDI, but between them (and above the US) on the GII. Because of the differences in culture and context, the salient discussion on gender issues are quite different. For decades, China has been dominated by the one child policy and its outcomes regarding the preference for male heirs and therefore the number of female children now “missing” in the society (Hudson and den Boer, 2004; The Economist, 2010). This policy resulted in not only halting population growth, but also in skewing the ratio of male to female children (Hudson and den Boer, 2004; Buckley, 2015). The Chinese government has recently lifted the one child restriction by first allowing those married couples for whom at least one of the two parents are an only child to have two children, and then in January 2016 to allow all couples to have two children and to no longer have to register their intentions prior to the birth of the child (Gu et al., 2016).

The one child policy has not the only factor affecting gender inequalities in China. Rapid industrial development and regulatory restrictions have resulted in destruction of the family unit for the rural poor, who remain a large sector of the society. There are estimated to be around 60 million or 1/5 of China’s children living without their parents and in poverty (Sudworth, 2016). These children have little to no communication with their parents; many will only see them once a year for a few weeks. Many of these children are being left to their own devices as the grandparents left as caregivers are working the farms to scratch out what living they can. The problem has now reached the global media and new attention is being placed on the Chinese government to devise a solution for families caught in this economic conundrum of how to earn a living and also take care of the family (The Economist, 2015a).

India ranked 130th on HDI (putting it in the medium human development country group) and also 130th on the GII. A critical problem in India that affects both women and children is malnutrition. A greater percent of children and women are malnourished in India than in, for example, drought-ridden sub-Saharan Africa, so many that India is now home to the “largest number of stunted children in the world” (Jana, 2016). In India, the global conversation on gender mirrors China in the preference of boy children and the resulting gendercide and ratio imbalance (The Economist, 2010). In India, there are additional issues due to the lack of education of girls, and the safety concerns of women in general regarding the ability to hold a job while risking physical harm in a society that if a woman is alone she becomes a potential victim. While women are actively part of the political system and the workforce in India the percentages are substantially lower than other high growth nations such as China and Brazil, (The Economist, 2017). There are large gender inequalities across the society where women are second class citizens who must always be under the protection of a male; for example, the majority of women report needing their husbands’ approval to access healthcare while over half need permission to visit friends, or shop and would normally not do so alone (The Economist, 2017).

Examples of countries in the low HDI grouping include the Democratic Republic of Congo (HDI=176th, GII=149th), Liberia (HDI=177th, GII=146th) and Uganda (HDI=163rd, GII=122nd). All are examples of failed states, racked by civil wars for decades where women have little to no rights. Whitten and Henderson’s (2013) book documenting the tragedies that Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army inflicted on women and children in Northern Uganda for 25 years provides a detailed case study of the effects that civil war has on women’s rights. Disease, drought and famine are also prime causes of poverty and inequality. For example, the outbreak in 2014 of the Ebola virus in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea led to thousands of deaths and lost output of more than 12 percent of GDP (UNDP, 2015, p. 70). Under such circumstances, in the poorest countries – especially in failed states – improving gender equality is a luxury that is out of reach.

Gender equality and the salient discussions around gender differ by country, culture and context. The comparative indices discussed here provide a way to compare change across the globe as well as a ranking of countries to show relative development regarding gender equality. We, however, believe that culture and context provide explanatory power in understanding gender inequities and are important in management research when proposing direction for change in policy, strategy and operational decisions.

Articles in the special issue

In 2015, a Call for Papers announced a special issue of Cross-Cultural and Strategic Management on “Gender in international business and management” with Amanda Bullough, Lorraine Eden, Susan Forquer Gupta, Tugba Kalafatoglu and Fiona Moore as guest co-editors. In November 2015, the guest co-editors ran a workshop for potential authors at the annual meetings of the Academy of International Business Southeast Chapter in Savannah, Georgia. There were 27 submissions to the special issue; all were peer reviewed following standard practices at Cross-Cultural and Strategic Management. In addition to this essay and the review essay by three of the guest co-editors (Bullough et al., 2017), there were seven manuscripts accepted for publication. The 18 authors of the seven manuscripts are located as follows: USA (5), Austria (2), Chile (2), Pakistan (2), Canada (1), France (1), Japan (1), Spain (1), South Korea (1), Middle East (1) and UK (1). Ten of the 18 authors (55 percent) are female.

The goal of the special issue on “Gender in international business and management” was to contribute to the body of literature on the role of gender in managing across cultures, as well as the role of cross-cultural issues on women’s business decisions and leadership styles. Our research questions sought to address how management work is gendered, how gender affects and is negotiated within cross-cultural interactions, and how gender inspires conflicts and creative synergies in an international business context.

Our introductory article serves as a launching point for continued conversation with the articles included in this special issue. Taken as a whole, these articles highlight a number of areas where gender inequalities have been identified in Cross-Cultural and Strategic Management. This research has the potential to shed light on how gender in the cross cultural or international business environment creates uniquely challenging inequalities for women in the workforce. Societal expectations, traditional roles and educational differences can be barriers to equality. They can either be reinforced or overcome though government regulation and industry policies, together with the provision of support systems to alleviate conflict faced by those attempting to break through traditional family and societal role expectations.

The second article in the special issue is a review of the literature on gender and cross-cultural management by Bullough et al. (2017). Their article begins with a discussion of the general importance of cross-cultural research and why it is of particular relevance to investigations on gender inequalities in the workforce. The article then reviews four distinct areas of cross-cultural research on gender: women in international management, anthropology and gender, women’s leadership, and women’s entrepreneurship.

The first area discussed by Bullough et al. (2017) is the broad topic of women managing internationally and when does culture or gender factor into the overall success of their careers. In the second area, anthropology and gender in business, the authors provide insight into the literature and methods unique to anthropological streams of inquiry into gender and a primer on base theory from gender research in anthropology and its strong historical development. Important to their discussion are two issues. First is the differing perspective brought by anthropological method and theory. Second is the need for research to recognize that gender is a cultural-driven concept that not only brings in added genders and roles but defines the malleability of gender in a particular culture or society in addition to the expected roles and behaviors of any one individual in that society.

The third area is cross-cultural women’s leadership where an overview illuminates cultural differences in leadership styles and efficacy across countries, as evidenced by the GLOBE cultural variables (House et al., 2004). The authors also discuss current understandings and gaps in the literature. The review of leadership research leads into the fourth and last area: gender in entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurial activities and the advancement of women in business are a focal point of much of the policy, funding and research coming out of the world institutions tasked with monitoring and supporting women and women’s equality economically as well as politically and socially. Entrepreneurship is an important barrier breaker for women who are attempting to go around existing barriers to their entry into traditional companies by creating their own enterprises or simply creating their own streams of income that allow them some level of economic control. Cross-cultural research in entrepreneurship provides the ability to tease out the differences in success or failure of entrepreneurial activity and what can be ascribed to cultural support or indifference.

The third article in the special issue by Madsen and Scribner (2017) reviews the literature on women in management and leadership, together with a call for more strategic cross-cultural scholarship. The authors conduct a content analysis of the most recent cross-cultural research in management and compares the progress to that reported in Burke (2001). Many of the same topics are still being explored, but this is not surprising given the lack of progress for women in this area. An interesting outcome of their deep review is Madsen’s identification of an overall focus on the negative aspects of gender and cross-cultural and international management. They find no difference in this focus between empirical and theoretical manuscripts. They also find no positively toned articles utilizing qualitative methodologies. Their review is carefully documented with tables of descriptive data on the journals articles selected for inclusion in the analysis. The analysis results in a list of studied countries, which is useful in identifying holes in coverage. The table list also provides a list of topics and related tone (positive, negative, or neutral) in the article as well as a listing of all the theories that appeared in the investigations. Madsen and Scribner conclude by identifying knowledge gaps and areas where more research is needed, providing useful direction for future researchers.

The fourth article takes us into the boardroom where Sayeed et al. (2017) compare family owned and state owned enterprises in India and China. Using a large data set, they evaluate board composition for firms, including state and family owned businesses. They find that family owned businesses and state owned (and therefore politically controlled) firms were significantly unbalanced regarding gender; however, the level of internationalization of the firm increased the board representation of women. The preponderance of state and family owned businesses in emerging markets makes this study particularly important in understanding the conditions and context women face in these business environments.

The next article by Soyeun and Shin (2017) is an investigation into the role of gender dyads and how the composition of the dyad may impact transformational leadership in a firm. The authors substantiate the important role of transformational leadership in a firm and test whether the gender composition of the leader-subordinate dyad results in differing outcomes. The authors conclude that the effectiveness of transformational leadership is contingent on gender and how women in leadership positions can impart transformational leadership to any gender. They also find that male leaders are not as successful when overseeing female subordinates. The study provides a useful building block for continued research on positive and negative outcomes, by gender, in imparting a consistent leadership strategy across the firm.

Lee et al. (2017) address gender and expatriate turnover intentions with an international sample of employees who were active as expatriates at the time of survey completion. Their study considered a set of issues related to turnover intentions including satisfaction with company support, repatriation concerns, career advancement concerns while controlling for nationality, years on the current assignment, and position in the company. The authors found that women and men did not differ significantly on overall turnover intentions, but did differ significantly on what issues were salient to their dissatisfaction. Women were significantly less satisfied with company support than men; while men were significantly more concerned with repatriation and career advancement.

The seventh article in the special issue turns the discussion toward entrepreneurial activity and gender. Kuschel et al. (2017) conduct a qualitative study investigating the funding challenges faced by women in Latin American technology start-ups. The women interviewed were identified through a six-month acceleration project run by a public agency. The semi-structured interviews yield information regarding the motivation and previous experience, funding needs, team structure, common obstacles and networks utilized by the women in starting up their firms. Common themes were then identified by the researchers and a detailed discussion and report are provided. The three common themes of capital needs, networks and individual characteristics interrelate and are associated with the outcomes. The article concludes with suggestions for public policy to support women entrepreneurs.

The next article by Kalafatoglu and Mendoza (2017) explores the impact of gender and culture on entrepreneurial activity, focusing on networks and venture creation in the MENA region. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with woman across five MENA countries. Three primary categories were discussed: gender and being a women entrepreneur, the patriarchal society, and networking. The authors end their discussion with suggestions for researchers and policy makers to improve not only our knowledge of gender in entrepreneurship, but ways to provide a more supportive environment for the development of women entrepreneurs.

The ninth and final article in the special issue is a discussion from the viewpoint of a functional area of business: operations management. Metters (2017) provides a look at the decisions made in by firms and managers as they attempt to produce goods and deliver services why negotiating the cultural and gendered work environment. This article lays out the realities faced by firms as they make decisions regarding manufacturing locations in the globe that have bottom line implications for not simply profitability of the firm but the ability to meet customer demand while ensuring workforce safety and productivity. Complicating the tasks faced by operations managers are the layers of cultural differences not only between managers and front line workers, but differing expectations, roles and acceptance of tasks by gender in each society. Lines of communication break down across the company when these culturally construed gender roles and expectations clash with global corporate policies and procedures and highlight the gaps for further research.


Culture and context are central to understanding a society’s differing role expectations of males and females. Both must live, survive and thrive within the constraints and opportunities imposed by culture and context. Forces for change are typically slow to occur and can be restricted or supported by government regulation and business policies.

As we have illustrated above, gender equality has made advances in most countries around the world. The average worldwide GII fell steadily between 2000 and 2014, with an overall gain gender equality of 15.21 percent. However, the ratio of average GII scores for the richest and poorest country HDI groupings rose between 2000 and 2014, suggesting a widening gap across countries grouped by their human development levels. The GGGI, on the other hand, suggests a smaller gap that is narrowing over time. Both indexes agree that on a worldwide average basis, the world is a long way from gender equality. Our brief look at Rwanda, a country that scores high on GGGI but low on GII, suggests that the GII is closer to capturing the lack of women’s real progress toward gender equality in poor countries, much of which is due to patriarchal societies and negative cultural attitudes toward women and girls. Clearly, more work is needed to determine we are making “slow but steady” progress toward gender equality or are “stuck in the middle.” The answer to this question is critical for attainment the gender equality targets in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals by the year 2030.

Central to advancing gender equality in the workforce is a need for policies, programs and societal structures to change such that gender roles can shift toward a balance of expectations across individuals instead of restrictive role definitions that constrain individual actions and freedoms. Currently, around the globe we are experiencing a shift in power as to who will lead these conversations and what will become a driving force for change. This is primarily due to ubiquitous spread of the internet and social media, which provide access to information and encourage the development of likeminded support networks across the globe. Individuals can now use their mobile phones and other electronic media to access critical information about their environment, education and skills needed to advance their own position in the society and economy. Whether individuals use their phones to talk with others who can support them in starting a business, to find out market prices, or to begin a protest over a policy or issue, the digital age has transformed our ability to change our own lives. The ability to pull together likeminded networks of individuals and to voice protest in order to create policy changes is a second outcome of this technology. Evidence of this trend is provided by the number of global protests that have begun over an issue in a single country that quickly became the focus of social and traditional media across the globe where supporting protests then broke out worldwide.

More business and management research is needed on the linkages among gender, culture and context (institutions and policies). Cross-cultural and international business and management scholars are best positioned to study these issues. We need to increase our knowledge of the role that gender plays in management, the workforce and the economy. Research is also needed to track change as it occurs and delineate where and how change was created, supported or blocked. Many scholars address gender in their research sporadically, and their findings add to our knowledge pool and are important. However, a concentrated research program is needed if we are to understand the country-specific forces that generate and perpetuate gender inequality and thus reduce society’s development potential. The articles in this special issue of Cross-Cultural and Strategic Management are a much-needed step in that direction.

The economist’s glass ceiling indices, OECD average, 2014-2016

2014 2015 2016
Population 25-64 with tertiary education, gender gap 3.5 % points 4.2 % points 3.7 % points
Labor force participation rate, gender gap −17.4 % points −12.7 % points −16.9 % points
Gender wage gap 15.0 % 15.5 % 15.5 %
Women in senior managerial positions, as % of total 31.6 % 30.6 % 30.8 %
Women on company boards, as % of total 12.5 % 16.7 % 18.5 %
Net child care cost, as % of average wage 18.5 % 18.2 % 18.2 %
Paid maternity leave for mothers, number of weeks at 100 % of last earnings 14.5 weeks 13.2 weeks 12.2 weeks
Paid maternity leave for fathers, number of weeks at 100 % of last earnings na na 4.3 weeks
GMAT exams taken by women, as % of total 36.8 % 36.6 % 36.9 %
Women in parliament, as % of total 26.4 % 27.1 % 28.1 %
Overall OECD average score 53.8 60.3 56.0
Highest score 78.7 (Norway) 80.8 (Finland) 82.6 (Iceland)
Lowest score 15.5 (South Korea) 25.6 (South Korea) 25.0 (South Korea)
USA score 56.1 58.2 55.9

Source: The Economist (2014a, b, 2015b, 2016b) Glass Ceiling Index

The UNDP’s gender inequality indices, 2000-2014

Country Average by Human Development Index (HDI) Group 2000 2005 2010 2013 2014 Point gap 2000-2014 % change 2000-2014
Very high 0.2112 0.1991 0.1825 0.1532 0.1500 −0.0612 −28.98
High 0.4927 0.4119 0.3887 0.3560 0.3458 −0.1469 −29.82
Medium 0.5419 0.5419 0.4939 0.4852 0.4716 −0.0702 −12.96
Low 0.6746 0.6396 0.6035 0.5953 0.5929 −0.0817 −12.11
World average 0.4315 0.4199 0.3886 0.3754 0.3659 −0.0656 −15.21
Point gap between low and very high HDI countries 0.4633 0.4404 0.4210 0.4421 0.4429
Ratio of low HDI to very high HDI countries 3.1936 3.2116 3.3064 3.8866 3.9520
No. of countries with data points 83 137 133 152 155

Source: Authors’ calculations based on GII data from the UNDP (United Nations, 2015a), website:

The world economic forum’s global gender gap indices, 2006-2016

Country Average by Human Development Index (HDI) group 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2016 Point gap 2006-2016 Percent change 2006-2016
Very high 0.6903 0.6972 0.7016 0.7050 0.7121 0.7136 0.7154 0.7179 0.7223 0.0320 4.6342
High 0.6637 0.6670 0.6763 0.6774 0.6734 0.6728 0.6756 0.6790 0.6856 0.0218 3.2915
Medium 0.6543 0.6571 0.6621 0.6725 0.6709 0.6713 0.6758 0.6782 0.6936 0.0393 6.0051
Low 0.6005 0.6102 0.6228 0.6246 0.6226 0.6314 0.6458 0.6463 0.6645 0.0640 10.6620
World average 0.6626 0.6677 0.6751 0.6784 0.6786 0.6799 0.6844 0.6864 0.6947 0.0320 4.8331
Point gap between low and very high HDI countries −0.0898 −0.0871 −0.0789 −0.0804 −0.0895 −0.0822 −0.0696 −0.0716 −0.0578
Ratio of low HDI to very high HDI countries 0.8699 0.8751 0.8876 0.8860 0.8743 0.8848 0.9027 0.9003 0.9200
No of countries with data points 110 122 124 128 130 131 133 136 144

Sources: Authors’ calculations based on World Economic Forum’s data for the Global Gender Gap. Data for 2016 are from WEF (2016). Data for 2006-2013 are from the Humanitarian Data Exchange at



In 2016, a measure for paternity leave policies was added, raising the number of measures to ten.


The Gender Inequality Index must be distinguished from the Gender Development Index, which is also published by the United Nations Development Program. See UNDP (2015) and Stotsky et al. (2016) for a discussion of the differences in the two indices.


Gender equality was UN Millennium Development Goal 3A, “Promote Gender Equality and Empower Women”. The target was “Target 3. A. Eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education, preferably by 2005, and in all levels of education no later than 2016” (United Nations, 2015b, p. 28).


Professor Valerie Hudson at Texas A&M University helped develop and is responsible for WomanStats (


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Further reading

Livingston, G. (2014), “Growing number of dads home with the kids: biggest increase among those caring for family”, Pew Research Center’s Social and Demographic Trends Project, Washington, DC, June, available at: (accessed February 11, 2017).

United Nations (2016), “The sustainable development goals report, 2016”, United Nations, New York, NY.

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The authors thank Kathy Lund Dean for extensive, insightful comments on an earlier version of this paper, and Valerie Hudson, Fiona Moore, Amanda Bullough and Rosalie Tung for their helpful advice also. The authors want to especially thank Rosalie Tung, Editor-in-Chief of Cross Cultural and Strategic Management, for her supportive encouragement of the special issue at every step in the process.

Corresponding author

Dr Lorraine Eden is the corresponding author and can be contacted at:

About the authors

Dr Lorraine Eden is a Professor of Management and Gina and Anthony Bahr Professor in Business in the Mays Business School, Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas. She has a PhD with Distinction in Economics from the Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada. Her teaching and publications are primarily in two areas: transfer pricing and multinational enterprises. Her current research topics are transfer pricing (the pricing of related party transactions) and multinational (MNE) strategies for coping with institutional distance, liability of foreignness and “hot spots” (e.g. conflict zones, corrupt economies, tax havens). She has published articles in journals such as Academy of Management Journal, Academy of Management Review, Canadian Journal of Economics, Journal of International Business Studies, Organizational Science and Strategic Management Journal. Dr Eden is a former Editor-in-Chief and a Consulting Editor of the Journal of International Business Studies. She is the President Elect and a Fellow of the Academy of International Business (AIB) where she received the 2012 President’s Award for outstanding service to AIB and the field of international business. In 2001, she founded Women in the Academy of International Business (WAIB) where she received the Inaugural Women of the Year award in 2016.

Dr Susan Forquer Gupta is an Associate Professor of Marketing and International Business in the Leon Hess Business School, Monmouth University, West Long Branch, New Jersey, She has a PhD in Marketing with a concentration in International Business from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN, USA. Here research is in cross-cultural measures, and applications in marketing, consumer behavior, and the formation of trust in business relationships. She has published articles in journals such as the Journal of Business and Industrial Marketing, Cross Cultural Management: An International Journal, International Marketing Review, Journal of Personal Selling and Sales Management. She is currently serving as the chapter chair for the Academy of International Business US Southeast Chapter having formally served as the Conference Chair and Program Chair. She has previously served as the President of Women in the Academy of International Business (WAIB).