It’s a big commitment – and helps add to the momentum in stamping out sexism. Tennis star Andy Murray gave us a good example of this on July 12, when he corrected a journalist’s casual sexism during a press conference, after being asked about “the first US player to reach a major semi-final since 2009”. “Male player” was his simple two-word interjection!
Another flurry of unnecessary sexism arose only a few days later, after the BBC announced that for the first time, a woman will play the part of the next Doctor Who in the sci-fi series: clearly a move that upset a few sensibilities.
Examples like these arise every day, where something that shouldn’t happen, does, or where something that should not be remarkable, is seen as being so.
The unfortunate reality is that around the world, women and girls continue to face discrimination in society and in the workplace. This starts from a young age, in terms of what different societies expect of the way that young girls should behave and who their role models should be. It’s demonstrated in what they are expected to study at school and what their role is expected to be as women. It carries on in terms of the way they are treated in day-to-day society and the experiences they have in both professional and non-professional workplaces.
Much still needs to be done to address these inequalities. Many people, including myself, view this unequal treatment as simply being wrong. There are many causes that can be tracked, and much of it derives from the societal and organisational cultures that we inhabit. These can be changed.
As well as being harmful to the women concerned, sexual discrimination is also harmful to economies and business. It therefore has implications for men as well as women. Looking at the economic and business impacts, the statistics and data analysis are clear: the systemic issues that exist with the under representation of women in the workforce has a global impact which affects everyone.
The United Nations estimates that if women fully participated in formal labour markets, global GDP would increase by US $28 trillion. A study from the European Institute for Gender Equality on the economic benefits of gender equality concludes that improvements in gender equality would lead to an additional 10.5 million jobs in 2050. This would benefit both men and women, since (only) about 70% of these jobs would be taken by women.
The International Labour Organization estimates that there is a 26.7% gap between men’s participation in the labour force (76.1%) and women’s (49.4%). If that gap was reduced to 25% by 2025, then it would have the potential to add US $5.8 trillion to the global economy. The statistics are staggering. Measures such as the Women’s Empowerment principles are intended to guide businesses on their role in addressing these issues.
Having met with the UN Global Compact team, I’ve experienced how committed they are to enabling societal change as well as underlining the significant role that business can have in addressing the many inequalities and societal injustices that exist: This is a clear declaration of a clear call to action.
Having discussed this topic with many women in business, it is evident that – as for all areas of inclusion and diversity – there’s no single answer. There are so many aspects that must be thought through – not least as different situations will have their own challenges, and require a variety of measures to address.
From an internal perspective, engaging with women in your business is essential – understanding what we call the “lived experience” and taking on board feedback on what works well, and what could be better. Focus is enabled by having a definitive, clearly articulated and communicated intention to improve, and one that is demonstrably endorsed and “lived” by the most senior leaders in any business. Recruiting male allies who can develop an understanding of the issues and commit to making change is another of many steps that can, and should, be taken. Mentoring (traditional, reverse and reciprocal) is proven to have positive results. Dispelling the myths of the gender ambition gap may also be necessary.
Senior women should be powerful advocates; however, they need to ensure that they positively contribute to the progression of all women, regardless of race or ethnic background, and factors such as disability, or being lesbian, bisexual or transgender. Having women at all levels within an organisation is important too – to show that female career progression is expected and cherished.
One initiative used in some legislations is gender pay gap reporting. This is a measure of the difference between the average earnings of all men and women across an organisation, irrespective of role. This helps raise awareness of the imbalance between the number of men and women employed at different levels within an organization and therefore potentially highlight where women are not advancing in the same way as men. (See a previous blog post, “What does the gender pay gap actually mean?” for more.)
From an external perspective, businesses of all sizes have supply chain power that can be used for good. Through their actions, corporates can raise awareness of these issues. They can use their purchasing power to share the business practices they expect from their suppliers. They can use their advocacy power in local markets; as well as to be clear how they wish to recruit, to ensure that people are attracted and selected based on merit alone.
From a corporate perspective, it is evident that diversity and inclusion is increasingly integral to businesses and their strategies. Many business leaders have realised that creating an inclusive workplace that enables a diverse workforce to be fully enabled and engaged in work – wherever they may be – is critical to their success and arguably to their survival in the global marketplace. This includes business practices and policies, as well as workplace culture.
To add to this, there are megatrends affecting many markets that mean action is urgently required. The ageing workforce in most mature economies, the under-deployment of women, the under-engagement of people with disabilities, ethnic groups, and LGBT+ people is an increasingly significant loss of value to employers. In an era where people want to work longer, and where we now have five generations in the workforce, the need to consider this carefully has never been greater.
The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and associated programs such as the Women’s Empowerment Principles are great ways for corporates to make a clear commitment to enable change outside their companies, as well as inside. It’s the right thing to do on all counts.