We Will Not See Gender Equality in Our Lifetime, Nor Will Our Daughters See it in Theirs
Gender Parity won’t happen for almost 100 years and we are worse off for it.
Imagine a world where equal work means equal pay, a world in which unpaid work at home was equally shared or at least not perceived solely as women’s work. A world where one’s roles and responsibilities were not guided by preconceived notions based entirely on one’s gender.
If you are reading this and thinking, “Why is this even a topic for discussion? We have gender equality here.” I have heard that argument often here in Canada, which according to the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) 2020 report on Gender Gaps and Pay Equity, fell three spots to nineteenth place. So, unless you live in Iceland (placed 1st), followed by Norway, Finland, and Sweden, you’re mistaken. You may live in a country where there have been improvements but parity is still far off.
Gender Parity — 99.5 Years Away
According to the WEF’s report we will be waiting 99.5 years for Gender Parity. Yet study after study shows that businesses with better diversity in senior management roles are more innovative and produce better profits. An in-depth study by The McKinsey Global Institute (2015) estimates that gender parity could increase global output by more than one-quarter in conjunction with a current business-as-usual climate.
The value of women in the workplace can even be precisely measured. The Global Gender Gap Report 2020 benchmarks countries on their progress towards gender equality in Economic Participation and Opportunity, Educational Attainment, Health and Survival, and Political Empowerment. At the top of the list, according to the WEF’s report, the usual suspects of progressive thought and the most aggressive in mandating gender parity policies are the Nordic countries: Iceland, Norway, Finland, Sweden. These countries also have the highest workforce participation rates for women in the world and experienced a GDP per capita increase by 10 to 20% over the past 40 to 50 years, according to a 2018 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development report.
Look further down the WEF’s Global Gender Gap index list, and you’ll eventually get to a proverbial no-woman’ s-land. The Middle East and North Africa score the lowest with gender equality approximately 150 years away. There are still 72 countries that restrict women from opening bank accounts or obtaining credit on their own, and many countries still deny women fundamental rights, including the ability to divorce, inherit, own assets or even move about freely.
There is not one country where men spend the same amount of time on unpaid work as women.
Women outperform men in Unpaid Work, that work which is considered essential in running a household and supporting family life, across the board. Even in countries where equality between the sexes is closest, for every hour of unpaid labor a man works, a woman works two. I hate saying ‘outperform’ in this instance because it makes it sound like its an achievement. Like it or not, the expectation that women remain the ‘happy’ homemaker exists in the backdrop of our culture.
More Equality Means More Money For Everyone
Here’s what’s insane about all this: Gender equality in the workforce, and equal pay, is so good for the economy, that the WEF suggests that lower-income countries could increase their GDP by 35%. This would boost wages for men through increased productivity. Most of these returns come from raw numbers: more people working equals a wealthier economy. A full fifth of these returns comes from the synergies and efficiencies that are created by men and women collaborating, what they call the “gender diversity effect on productivity.” As their report says, “Our evidence — from macroeconomic, sectoral, and firm-level data — shows that women and men complement each other in the production process, creating an additional benefit from increasing women’s employment on growth.” Meaning, you get more from adding women to the workforce than you would get if you add an equal number of men.
In wealthier countries, the diversity effect can be seen in all levels of leadership. Women’s success in leadership roles can often come down to “soft skills” or emotional intelligence that are crucial for effective leadership and encompass important competencies like teamwork, coaching, mentorship, leadership, awareness, conflict management etc. According to a Korn Ferry study that surveyed 55,000 professionals across nine countries and all levels of management, women outperformed men in 11 of 12 categories of emotional intelligence.
Emotional self-control was the only category where women didn’t outperform men. As it turns out, in that respect, we are equal (Be honest, a stereotype about women being hysterical crept into your mind for a brief moment, didn’t it?).
“When you factor in the correlation between high emotional intelligence and those leaders who deliver better business results, there is a strong case for gender equity,” says Daniel Goleman, Co-Director of the Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations at Rutgers University. “Organizations must find ways to identify women who score highly on these competencies and empower them.”
Unconscious Biases — We All Have Them
Unconscious bias can be based on a variety of characteristics including but not limited to skin color, accents, education, disabilities, family status, and gender. We all have them, and it affects the balance of diversity in the workforce, who gets promoted, big titles, retention efforts, and shapes your organization’s culture. A study conducted at Yale University found that male and female scientists — trained to reject the subjective — still were more likely to hire men, consider them more competent, and pay them more per year than women.
A study in Nature Human Behavior suggests that hiring committees still hire fewer women even when they think the process is fair and balanced, with gender not playing a part in their decision making. The numbers show that we are fooling ourselves. What can be affecting your hiring process more is the ‘similar-to-me’ bias. We tend to want to surround ourselves with like-minded and even similar-looking individuals. The challenge with this is the candidate you lean towards the most might not be the best person for that job.
The Gender Gap in STEM
A wide gender gap has been prevalent in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, math) for decades. According to the World Economic Forum, only 16 percent of female students graduate from science and technology subjects compared to 47 percent of men. And the lack of positive narratives, built-in gender biases, and poor retention policies push women out of STEM careers, with unequal treatment being the number one reason.
Based on data pulled from LinkedIn, the World Economic Forum found women are under-represented in the majority of rapidly growing STEM fields. Women make up only 26% of the workforce in data and AI, 15% among those with engineering skills, and 12% among those with cloud computing skills.
5 Ways to Help Promote Gender Equality in the Workplace
- Acknowledging that there is (in the majority of cases) a bias problem and it affects the way we make promotion and hiring decisions which in turn leads to fewer women in key positions
- Ensure through transparent pay structures that equal pay is given for fair value and reduce wage gaps
- Create a leadership program for your organization and encourage women to be a part of it
- Look for opportunities for sponsorship, mentorship, and networking
- Think more like Iceland
As more women reach leadership positions at the top, the role-model effect will take hold, where our daughters will seek leadership roles in STEM, business, and government because they see the role of women in those positions as being normal.
There is a growing demand for talent in emerging technologies, and with it an incredible opportunity for women. We need to inspire women to become educated, reskilled, and upskilled to fill these emerging jobs. At the same time, we need to address the biases that are currently holding qualified women back from being hired, recruited, or promoted for current leadership roles and emerging ones.
“Individual commitment to a group effort: That is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.” — Vince Lombardi
We can all work together to speed up this timeline — it’s a group effort.