It is actually dangerously easy to believe that gender inequality is a relic of last century, and that equal opportunities for men and women are an automatic component of modern society and the workplace.
We say dangerous, because, when you scratch the surface, a great deal of the old school thinking still remains unacknowledged in many organisations. While there’s no doubt that the woman’s lot in society has changed immeasurably for the better, a number of recent reports show that even in progressive countries there’s still a worryingly long way to go until we reach that level playing field.
2015’s UK Office of National Statistics Report on the country’s gender pay gap found a difference of 19.2% across part time and full time employees. McKinsey’s 2015 Women in the Workplace report found very little progress in women reaching management positions. According to the Davies Report, Improving the Gender Balance on British Boards, we’ve reached the set target that 25% of the boards of FTSE 100 companies should be made up by women by 2015 – but it still remains that three quarters of them are men.
Clearly, gender inequality is still a massive issue in business. Ignoring it is a huge economic and strategic business risk.
With gender equality comes powerful change. Organisations who recognise that gender parity is important have an engaged workforce which therefore impacts on their bottom line. The McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) estimates that a colossal $28 trillion, or 26%, could be added to global annual GDP by 2025 if women were to participate in the workforce as equally as men.
The next generation of workers, the ‘Millennials’, will make up 50% of the global workforce by 2020. Theirs is a generation for whom diversity has always been the norm, and who will find the current culture of many organisations unacceptable. A report by PWC shows that very few of this crucial group believe that gender equality is a current or future reality, and that they will vote with their feet to move on to employers who have relevant proven track records. Companies cannot afford to leak talent to other more enlightened cultures.
History shows us that in cases of inequality, it’s very unlikely that things just ‘get better’. Belief systems become entrenched and often unconscious and need analysis and weeding out. Achieving gender parity needs concerted effort. Women alone can’t change attitudes and beliefs, because the majority of businesses are still run by men, so this is an issue that we all need to address.