The devastating impact of the global pandemic has halted – or reversed – years of progress on poverty, health and education. COVID-19 has been particularly detrimental to women, and to the hard work and progress thus far achieved towards gender equality.
Gender equality is seen as both a fundamental human right and an essential foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world. It covers many aspects in society – such as ending violence against women; child marriage; and lack of access to affordable healthcare, and in business – such as promoting equality; non-discrimination based on gender; and women in leadership. The issues surrounding the achievement of true gender equality are many, culturally nuanced and will take time to change long-held beliefs, discriminations and unconscious biases.
However, besides being the right thing to do, companies are losing considerable potential income by allowing the gender gap to continue. Multiple studies have pointed out that encouraging and promoting female leadership, the resulting increase of gender equality in the workforce can and will, in turn, drive better business results.
For example, recent reports conclude that companies with the highest share of female executives achieve up to 41% better return-on-equity and 56% better operating results.
Gender inequality is a global issue and one thing is certain, it will not be a quick fix! Solutions require collaboration between Business, Government and Education. Success will also depend on participating countries supporting new policies with appropriate, enforceable legislation.
In the 2021 report from the World Economic Forum on the Global Gender Gap (defined as the difference in the level of equality experienced between the genders in Health, Politics, Education & Economic opportunity), the depressing news is that the pandemic has extended the likely time when we will see this gap closed, from 99.5 to 135.6 years! If nothing changes, it will be our great, great-granddaughters who will have to wait to see the gap closed.
That’s far too long!
Women have been negatively impacted by the pandemic through job loss and pay reductions from shouldering more of the burden on family care, and when resources have been squeezed, they have more likely been the first to feel the pain.
On a more positive note for the GCC region, the United Arab Emirates was listed as one of the five most-improved countries globally with an improved score of 4.4 percentage points and heading in the right direction for gender parity.
However, the November 2021 IMF UAE report does identify the region’s challenges in terms of progressing Sustainable Development Goal (SDG)5: Gender Equality, defined as the equal treatment of everyone – and the empowerment of women and girls to achieve their full potential.
But let’s take a look at some other interesting facts related to global Gender Equality issues.
According to the World Bank’s Women, Business and the Law 2022 report:
● Approximately 2.4 billion women of working age lack equal economic opportunity
● 178 countries maintain legal barriers preventing women’s full economic participation
● 95 countries do not guarantee equal pay for equal work
● Women face some form of job restriction in 86 countries
These are truly shocking statistics in 2022.
Governments have a responsibility to address these issues and should be at the forefront by adopting laws that strengthen women’s (economic) rights and opportunities. According to the World Bank report, in 2021, 23 governments introduced legal reforms to ensure women’s empowerment, thereby taking much-needed steps towards advancing women’s economic inclusion.
According to a 2021 report published by the World Bank, extraordinarily, only 10 countries in the world offer full and equal legal protection to women: Belgium, France, Denmark, Latvia, Luxembourg, Sweden, Canada, Portugal, Ireland and Iceland.
Within this group, Iceland – which proactively enforces equal pay laws – is seen as a success story. All large firms are required to prove that they meet the equal pay standards approved jointly by the Government, employees and Unions, and show that differential pay decisions are not influenced by ‘social characteristics’ – such as gender. Organisations are permitted to pay performance-related salaries if they can prove they are paying equal value for equal work.
This approach has allowed companies to closely analyse why they pay people what they do and what each job entails, which resulted in improved levels of trust by employees in their pay system. This, in turn, caused an increased sense of feeling valued as part of an inclusive culture, with all of the associated benefits to the bottom line.
When we (Predixa) engage with our clients who wish to improve gender balance in their workplaces, we find they are frequently making a common mistake, i.e. focusing on the symptom rather the root cause and as a result, trying to improve issues surrounding discrimination and lack of gender balance.
Often driven by external stakeholders dictating the agenda and insisting on Gender Equality targets being met quickly, organisations start with their own demographic data and compare it with externally set benchmarks to assess how they compare. If their numbers are too low, they seek to “solve” the problem quickly by directing a recruitment campaign according to a specific demographic, or by fast-tracking the promotions of certain individuals to hit quotas and tick the boxes.
Targets and quotas have their place, but if the root causes of the issues from lack of Gender Equality are not understood, challenged and remediated, the expected value to the organisation and the individuals will not be realised. We have also found that the knee-jerk reaction of meeting quotas often results in resentment within the workforce, who recognise that it’s no longer about ‘who’s best suited for the role’, leading to disillusionment and a potential exodus of the really talented employees who seek recognition elsewhere which tends to have a noticeable reputational and financial impact on the organisation.
At Predixa, we advise organisations to take time to understand where and how to best focus on change, to ensure that the best people are recruited, nurtured and promoted based on gender-neutral data-driven decisions. Sure, they can have targets – but allow time to act with authenticity, to avoid making the mistakes that might damage the brand, resulting in negative ramifications both socially and economically for the company. For more information, contact us at: www.predixa.ai or email email@example.com.