March is the month in which International Women’s Day is celebrated throughout the world and it’s always a good time to check in to see the progress that women have made towards equality in the world.
Women are deemed to be 49% of the global population and there is much to celebrate when it comes to the social, economic, cultural and political contributions they make to the world. But, our numbers notwithstanding, women are still considered and treated as unfavourably as any other minority when it comes to our journey in business. Despite admirable progress in some parts of the world, action is clearly needed to speed up parity for this half of the world’s population.
Women make up half the world’s human capital and its consumer base, and yet the gap between men and women when it comes to leadership, pay, promotion and life chances still persists.
Mind the gap
As a woman with bills to pay, I have to confess that the gender disparity that irks me the most is the pay gap between men and women. Whether they work in Europe, Africa, the Americas or Asia, women putting in the same hours and doing the same jobs as their male counterparts are systematically underpaid and under-recognised for their efforts.
In the UK, narrowing the gender pay gap is moving at such a glacial pace that without urgent action, there is little chance of closing the gap in my lifetime. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the gender pay gap for median earnings of full-time and part-time employees combined stands at 19.2 per cent, unchanged since 2014. In terms of money, this means that women earn about £100 per week less than their male peers. At this rate, the TUC predicts the gender pay gap will take at least 50 years to close completely.
Global wage indicators show that the gender pay gap across Europe, the Americas, Africa and Asia ranges from around 20% to close to 40%. While the not-for-profit sector tends to score well, the private sector – and particularly industries such as agriculture, manufacturing and construction – still has a long way to go.
Now, the way I see it, that’s a lot of time that women are gifting to their employers; time which they could better spend on the raft of domestic and care-related obligations many women have to contend with.
So why are organisations still getting away with freely stealing time from women?
The reasons vary, with many reflecting prevailing cultural and societal norms. Let me highlight just three:
Lack of transparency: Organisations that don’t undertake rigorous audits of their pay structures are often simply unaware of the nature and scale of the problem. Many organisations that have not conducted pay gap reviews and yet pat themselves on the back for being an ‘equal opportunity’ company could be in for a rude shock.
Sexism and Systemic discrimination: Simple, good old-fashioned sexism is still alive and well, another reason why some leaders rate women less favourably and consequently under-pay them. The Fawcett Society’s State of the Nation report found that six in ten people believe that men in top jobs won’t make room for women unless they have to, and nearly half (49 per cent) of recruitment decision-makers shared this view. So whether gender bias is conscious or unconscious, discrimination continues to get a pass.
Organisations that lack gender diversity don’t just happen by accident. When people (read men) recruit in their own image, the chances are high that women are going to be held back at the gates. According to research from the Fawcett Society, a small group of managers, largely responsible for making recruitment decisions, continue to act as a barrier to gender equality at work.
Lack of accountability: Until people are held accountable for discriminatory behaviour, it’s going to take a long time for women to get what they expect and deserve. When no-one gets sanctioned, fined, fired, or made to give me my lost money back, it’s tough to persuade the wrong-doers that we mean business.
Which is why I was pleased to hear the UK government announce that from 2018, companies with more than 250 employees will be required to make their gender pay gap publically available online. Employers that fail to address gender pay disparities will be named and shamed by new league tables that will rank companies by sector.
Business (not) as usual
If money is what really talks, then increased gender diversity should be a no-brainer for smart organisations. Research has consistently shown that having women in leadership correlates to increased profitability. A recent study by the Peterson Institute for International Economics and audit firm, EY, studied almost 22,000 publicly traded companies in 91 countries. Many of the companies involved in the study lacked gender diversity, with more than 50% of them having not a single female executive.
In the study, Norway’s companies were the most gender diverse, with women filling 40 percent of board seats and 20 percent of executive positions. Japan was at the bottom with women holding 2 percent of board seats and 3 percent of executive positions.
In reviewing the evidence about the impact of women on the bottom line, the data was clear about women in top management positions. An increase in the share of women from zero to 30 percent was associated with a 15 percent rise in profitability.
Calling male feminists
So where are all the male feminists when we need them? Women can’t succeed alone; with the paths to promotion and pay dominated by men, we need all the fair-minded, right-thinking, good men we can get to stand up for equal rights for their wives, sisters and mothers.
In an excellent piece on the impact of the gender gap on leadership, South African Nobuhle Dlamini points out that: “The role of supportive partners, families and society at large cannot be undermined. Progressive leaders in business have a crucial role to play in ensuring effective utilisation of all human resources across gender, social class, race and sexual orientation. This is a business imperative rather than a nice to have.”
Paying women fairly is a win/win for any employer who means business. Like water, the best talent flows to where it is welcomed. At 49% of the global population, women are not a minority to be sniffed at, especially as we make most of the purchasing decisions for our households.
So, to all the employers out there, I say this. Put my hard-earned money right back into my pocket because, above all else, I am doing the same work and I deserve to be paid just as well as the next man. And who knows? Once I’ve paid my bills, I might even be persuaded to spend the rest on your products.
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