The World Economic Forum predicted in 2014 that it would take until 2095 to achieve global gender parity. Then a year later in 2015, they estimated that a slowdown in the already glacial pace of progress meant the gender gap wouldn’t close entirely until 2133.
The Women’s Business Council suggests that the UK’s future growth and prosperity depends on maximising women’s contribution to the economy; estimating that equalising women’s productivity and employment to that of men’s could be worth up to £23 billion to our economy each year (‘Two Years On’ report July 2015).
Research carried out by feminist charity the Fawcett Society to mark its 150th anniversary found that 70% of men believe gender equality would be better for the UK economy. Gender parity is linked to prosperity and so is an economic imperative. Women’s advancement and leadership are central to business performance and economic prosperity. Profitability, ROI and innovation all increase when women are counted among senior leadership.
The talent pipeline
Despite the equality legislation in place, attitudes and working practices continue to block women in achieving their career aspirations in the UK. Middle management is the leakiest part of the pipeline and needs attention. This coincides with women rethinking their priorities and aspirations as they tire of corporate politics, or decide to start a family or a business.
While 40% of women hold first-line management positions, at mid-management level their representation declines to 15%. Research shows that for a working woman with a child, her chances of being hired fall by 79% and she is half as likely to be promoted. Businesses are short sighted if they don’t act to tackle problems that will adversely affect their talent pool.
The International Women’s Day campaign asks us to pledge to take a concrete step to help achieve gender parity more quickly:
• To help women and girls achieve their ambitions
• Challenge conscious and unconscious bias
• Call for gender-balanced leadership
• Value women and men’s contributions equally
• Create inclusive, flexible cultures
Research by Ernst & Young established that most people believe that more female leadership leads to stronger companies. Women’s top accelerator, based on personal experience, is good opportunities for progression, followed by work/life balance and flexible work arrangements. Men also see opportunities for progression as an important accelerator for women; their first choice of enabler, however, is a supportive organisational culture. Men list unconscious bias (26%) as the top barrier affecting women’s acceleration, with lack of support from male leaders (24%) a close second.
Many see gender equality as a matter of fairness, but for business, it’s about access to talent. Achieving gender parity will make the workplace better for women and men as all will benefit from programmes that support flexibility in juggling professional and personal commitments.
Organisations that want to nurture talent can best do so by creating an environment and platform for talent to succeed, irrespective of gender, as the key to future success and prosperity.