In recent years businesses have made a lot of progress in closing the gender gap. Women now account for about 40 per cent of the total global workforce and are taking more leadership positions. There are also far less limitations on the type of job that women can have.
This progress is positive, but there’s still a long way to go to close the gender gap for good. A report by the World Economic Forum found that the global progress in levelling the gender playing field has stalled since 2013. In fact, the UK now comes 15th in a global ranking of four areas that include education, health, the workplace and political representation – a drop from 9th place in 2006.
This isn’t just an issue for women, but for businesses as a whole. Research shows that companies with the highest gender diversity see a higher return on equity and a stronger stock price growth compared to the industry average. So, what can businesses do to provide equal opportunities for both men and women to thrive in the workplace?
Create the right working environment
Gender equality starts with the right working culture. Does the business actively promote and support equal opportunities? Is there a fair representation of both men and women in leadership positions? And if not, why? Is the business actively encouraging both men and women to climb up the ranks – and are they provided with the right tools and training to do so? These are all important questions to ask when building an inclusive culture.
Equal opportunity for men and women to excel
We know that women still have limited presence on boards of directors around the world, even though this gender gap can undermine a company’s potential value and growth. Having higher diversity across the board can improve business performance by broadening access to information and encouraging different viewpoints.
However, just because a business or industry may have a higher ratio of females, doesn’t mean it’s doing all it can to help women succeed. In the creative industries, for example, there’s a large proportion of female employees yet, they only represent a small proportion of director level roles.
To succeed, businesses need to be aware of the biases and behaviours that could be detrimental to their working environment. Subtle biases can be so ingrained in the business that they’re hard to see. It’s the job of an employer to provide the training that is needed to nip this in the bud. If the business is struggling to combat these ingrained behaviours, external support through annual employee engagement surveys can help identify what areas of the company need to improve.
Create the right balance of personal and professional life
Some life milestones are universal. At some point, employees are likely to need time off to raise children or look after elderly parents, for example. These commitments shouldn’t hinder an employee’s ability to progress their career.
Research by LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Cohas found that 90 percent of employees believe taking extended family leave will hurt their career, which is deeply concerning. Modern businesses need to find ways to accommodate these life events, whether that means promoting flexible working or providing paid time-off to look after dependents. Businesses should also be actively encouraging both men and women to take parental leave.
We have made great progress in closing the gender pay gap, but as competition heats up, businesses need to put the right strategy in place to build an inclusive culture. Not only will this allow an equal playing field, but it will also enable businesses to improve performance.