The discovery that more men than women hold positions of power rarely comes as a surprise. What may be more unexpected is that things are not always as they seem when women appear to have equality. Countries can sometimes stand out for their efforts at getting women into positions of power. Take, for example, Rwanda’s appointment of a cabinet in which half of the posts went to women. Its move came just days after a gender-balanced cabinet was named in Ethiopia. Elsewhere in the world, there are many striking examples of women having equality with men, or even outperforming them, in other jobs that offer power and influence. Walk into a courtroom in Slovenia and the judge is four times more likely to be a woman than a man. In journalism, Namibia stands out: half of its top newsroom posts are held by women. It is not difficult to find other countries which buck the trend for a particular job. Half of IT professionals in Malaysia are female, along with six out of 10 medical researchers in New Zealand and five out of 10 engineers in Oman. That women hold these posts, which are so often dominated by men, is to be welcomed. Yet while it may seem obvious that other countries could learn from these examples, it is often worth asking ourselves where influence really lies. The power of judges Fresh in many people’s minds will be the controversy surrounding the confirmation of judge Brett Kavanaugh to the US Supreme Court, despite allegations of sexual assault – which he denied. The Supreme Court – in which three of the nine judges are women – is an example of a system in which top judges wield considerable power. As in the UK, the legal system is based on common law. Judges are often appointed late on in their careers – sometimes through male-dominated networks – and the law is based on their decisions and precedent. By contrast, in other countries such as France and Slovenia, judges’ power is far more constrained. In these civil law systems – which are based on written rules – judges have less discretion to make their own interpretations. And the way in is different too. Law graduates become judges by passing a competitive exam to enter training straight after graduating. The fact that positions are allocated on academic merit rather than via a tap on the shoulder makes a big difference. More than six out of 10 judges in France are female, but the position comes with a loss of pay. Lawyers can often earn more working in private practice. Some of the highest percentages of female judges are found in post-Soviet societies. Like Slovenia, seven out of 10 judges in Romania and Latvia are women. Under communism the role of the judge was not only poorly paid but much constrained by ideological factors – the real power lay elsewhere. The judiciary in these countries still has a relatively low reputation and earning power.