In 1927, Estonia was the first country in Europe to grant women the right to vote. In 1940, they were granted full citizenship rights as well. The parliament and government of this small nation on the Baltic Sea are both lead by women. This is not a coincidence: it's because of these early initiatives that Estonia is now considered one of the most advanced countries in terms of technology and innovation. This article will discuss how the country has benefited from a female-led government and what other countries can learn from it.
The first thing Estonia did was to make technology accessible to everyone, whether they have access or not. In 2002, when internet penetration in Europe averaged at about 20%, Estonians had surpassed its European counterparts with 53% of their population on the web.
In 2005, Skype hit international markets for a price that anyone could afford rather than just wealthy entrepreneurs as before. Today there are more public WiFi hotspots per capita in Estonia than any other nation in the world and those who lack connectivity still enjoy free wireless connections across major cities like Tallinn thanks to an initiative called Social Digital Public Space.
What's even more impressive is that Estonia has done all of this while being one of the poorest countries in Europe, with a GDP per capita less than half the EU average and living on their own since 1991 when it declared independence from Russia.
Women have played an important role in making these strides possible. Though they accounted for just over 40% of those who formally ran for parliament during last year's election, women emerged as 61% of parliamentary candidates nominated by political parties and 54% elected to seats in parliament--making them not only well-represented but dominant among members of legislative bodies across party lines. Estonian law mandates equal representation between men and women within government positions which make up about 55-60%. This has led to the majority of government positions being filled by women, with many female prime ministers in their recent history. Since a woman has been leading Estonian Government for almost 20 years now, it's clear that these have had an impact on the country's success and continual innovation.
Women are also a large part of Estonia's workforce—which influences innovation. Women make up 44% of the workforce, and in turn represent a third of senior management positions. These numbers are even higher for STEM fields where women account for 43% of employees with 27% holding leadership roles as well. With more women in STEM and leadership positions, it helps set the tone for innovation in the nation.
In the private sector, there is greater gender parity within entrepreneurship: about 45% of new ventures were founded by men versus 53% by women. Estonia has also made strides to promote female entrepreneurship through its innovation program called "Women on Top" which provide grants to businesses that have at least one woman co-founder or more than 40 percent female employees--promoting diversity from an early stage and supporting females who want to start their own business.
From all these facts gathered, it's no wonder that Estonia is currently ranked as the best country in Europe to be born female and second-best in the world. Estonia is a true example to the world of how a female majority lead government can help pave the path to accelerated innovation.