The year 2017 heard voices from across the globe speak up in solidarity for gender equality. Today, with social media as the mega-phone that amplifies the global appeal for equality, the term seems to be suffering from semantic saturation i.e. due to constant repetition, it seems to have lost its meaning.
However, the gender gap is very real. According to the Global Gender Gap Report 2017 that studied the parity gap across parameters such as access to health, education, politics and workplace, 2017 has been a bad year with the gender gap widening for the first time since records began in 2006. It pointed out that at the current rate of progress, it will take 100 years to bridge the global gender gap (and 217 years to fill workplace gender divide). The same report found India at 108th position in the Global Gender Gap index, a drop from 87 in 2016.
Before we get into the ways and means of accelerating gender equality at the workplace, let’s take a step back to understand what it stands for. Gender equality is the state in which access to rights and opportunities is unaffected by gender. In other words, it is a state devoid of assumptions and stereotypes that diminish the potential of an individual on the basis of their gender. But to really understand equality, it’s necessary to recognize inequality.
Gender bias at work
Gender norms call for women to take up the bulk of the responsibilities at home, and this puts the onus on women to choose between work or family. Liberian activist Leymah Gbowee, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 asked the men to put a monetary value to all the chores their wives did by estimating how much they’d have to pay someone else to do it. With this simple task, Gbowee demonstrated the value of unpaid work that women are expected to do – efforts that are routinely dismissed by working men and women.
This imbalance caused by gender norms or biases penetrates the workplace as well. According to a worldwide survey by Accenture, women are 22% less likely to reach manager level than their male peers. Conversely, men are 47% more likely to reach senior management/director positions than their female peers. The report confirmed that while there are a number of social and economic barriers to equality in the workplace such as educational disparities, childcare, domestic responsibilities and cultural biases, an organisation’s culture can hold women back too.
Why should we be worried about women dropping out mid-career?
According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), improving gender parity may result in significant economic dividends depending on the situation of different economies. Gender equality could add additional $250 billion to the GDP of the United Kingdom, $550 billion to Japan’s and $2.5 trillion to China’s. The global GDP could increase by $5.3 trillion by 2025 if the gender gap in economic participation was closed by 25% over the same period.
At an enterprise level, gender equality has benefits comprising better decision making, innovation and greater employee satisfaction leading to higher growth and profits. The WEF report highlighted a LinkedIn research which found that women are under-represented in engineering, manufacturing and construction, and information, communication and technology. Each of these segments lose out the potential benefits of greater gender diversity.
Even at an individual level, the benefits of an equal workplace are seen by men and women alike. The Accenture study quoted earlier identified 40 factors that influence advancement at the workplace. The list of 40 includes gender diversity as a priority, diverse leadership, policies such as maternal and paternal leave and cultural drivers for a more inclusive workplace. The study found that in organisations where these 40 factors are implemented, even men are 23% more likely to advance to a manager level.
Benefits of a 50-50 workplace that leverages the full-potential of its employees has a 3-tier impact – on individual, enterprise, as well as the economy at large. Several companies have integrated gender inclusive frameworks with their organisational structure with the belief that diversity makes the company stronger in terms of innovation, creativity and growth. Representation, parental leave, family support, leadership training, flexible work schedules and transparency are some such policies that are being implemented in organisations to create a diverse and progressive work environment.
Digital literacy - an equaliser?
The movement towards an equal workforce is a slow but steady one which requires progressive transformations in both social and economic fronts of equality. Even though parity might take years to achieve, there are a few enablers that women can benefit from today - digital technology being one of them. A research by Accenture explored how digital technology can be a great facilitator for women. The research, a global survey of 28,000 women and men, went on to highlight three accelerators that could close the gender pay gap – digital fluency, career strategy and tech immersion. According to the research, digital fluency – the extent to which people embrace and use digital technologies – advances pay equality by providing women access to online courses, networking, banking and paid work.
To complement digital fluency, a career strategy would help women manage their careers through mentorship, promotion and training. Lastly, tech immersion – acquiring STEM and digital skills – would help women advance as quickly as men in the workforce and increase their chances of working in a high paying industry. The study argues that combining these three equalizers would reduce the pay gap by 35% worldwide.
Organisations that are built on the principles of diversity know the following points to be true - that diversity is important to make a business stronger and more innovative; that gender equality supports those who have been denied opportunities based on unfair gender biases; and that workplaces need to evolve to make place for different needs and requirements and be flexible enough to create a sense of belonging for every individual in the workforce.
Accenture has been a leading voice in advocating equality in the workforce and continues to share its point of view while implementing inclusive policies in its own organisation and opening doors for women in STEM. With more than 40% of the workforce being women, 40% women new hires in 2016, and a vision to have 25% women managing directors globally by 2020 in their workforce, Accenture is paving the path towards a 50-50 world by 2025.
To know more about gender equality in the workplace and how to achieve it, see here.
This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Accenture and not by the Scroll editorial team.