WAIT, Where Are All The Women

Wait, where are all the women?

It would be accurate to say that the progress being made on gender equality, in the corporate workplace, was pretty solid right up until the end of the 1990s.In one 1995 study for the US-based National Centre for Education Statistics, almost half of married women surveyed reported earning at least half of their family’s total family income, leading the study’s sponsor to declare triumphantly that, “Women are the new providers.”

However, though women’s employment grew steadily from a low of 48% in 1970 right up to 75% employment in 2000, the trend didn’t continue. Due in no small part to the effects of the worldwide recession of 2008–2010, it sunk back to 69%, before reaching 73% by 2018.

Of more recent concern, is that the impact of COVID, is not yet fully known or realised. What we do know is that women have been impacted at a higher rate, with more women losing their jobs, or having to leave the workforce due to competing family situations, such as home schooling, and elderly care.

The Truth

The truth is that progress towards equality for women in 2021 is proceeding slowly and unevenly with women still desperately underrepresented in corporate management and political roles in particular.

Women in Politics

The gender imbalance in politics across the globe is enormous, with women continuing to be woefully under-represented in parliaments worldwide.

  • Just 25 per cent of all national parliamentarians are now women (though this is up from 11 per cent in 1995).
  • Women presently serve as Heads of State or Government in just 21 out of the 195 countries of the world.
  • 119 countries have never had a female leader.
  • If current trends are to continue at the same rates, gender balance in political representation will not be achieved for another 130 years.

The women in Politics are Stereotyped

All female political representation is welcomed but it continues to frustrate me that, as 50% of the global population, there are limited women at the table setting policy and agenda for their countries and globally.

It may not surprise you to learn that the most common portfolios held by women ministers are in the areas of family, children, youth affairs, the elderly and the disabled. These are closely followed by social affairs, the environment, employment/labour/vocational training and women’s affairs/gender equality.

It is abundantly clear from this limited list that the full spectrum of female capability is simply not being represented in global politics at present.

Having more women in politics isn’t about tokenism, or reaching quotas, it’s in all our interests. There is a growing body of evidence that women’s involvement in political decision-making processes improves life for everyone.

Women in Corporate Roles

According to the 2018 Women in the Workplace Report released by McKinsey in partnership with LeanIn.org, high-level female corporate representation in the United States hasn’t improved much at all in recent years.

The report acknowledges that, though many companies are keen to report their commitment to gender diversity, it isn’t translating into meaningful progress. Some of the the findings were;

  • Women made up 48% of entry-level employees in the US in 2018 but only 38% of managers, 29% of VPs and 23% of senior VPs.
  • For every 100 men promoted to a management role, only 79 women were.
  • 29% of women, compared to only 15% of men, believe that their gender will be an obstacle to their future career advancement.

Subsequent research carried out by EY and the Peterson Institute for International Economics in 2019 highlighted that companies in just five countries around the world have at least 30% of women in corporate leadership.

What About Quotas?

Though corporate gender quotas are still quite a new concept, political gender quotas have been around for some time now. In fact, half of the world’s countries today use some type of electoral quota for their parliament.

Norway has led the way for some time when it comes to corporate gender quotas, breaking new ground in 2003 by becoming the first country to implement a gender quota for boards of directors.

The newly implemented directive required that female members would make up at least 40 per cent of overall board representation. Other European countries quickly followed Norway’s lead, including France, Italy and Belgium.

However, a subsequent study showed that the benefits of the move were strictly limited to board level with underrepresentation and wage disparities persisting across other segments of the organisations.

It also seems that such measures are not always easy to enforce. In Canada, despite enforced directives to help facilitate gender diversity on boards of directors, 45% of companies still have no women on their boards.

The Quota Quandary

Are gender quotas a progressive step towards gender equality in the corporate and political worlds or fundamentally flawed?

In reality, a world with widespread gender (and race) quotas across the political and corporate landscapes may not be quite as idyllic as it might initially seem. On the one hand, the increased diversity would, of course, enhance workplaces and grant minorities access to more opportunities but it may also be counterproductive.

Many women fear they will be seen to be in their role ‘because of quotas’ while men will be seen as being in their role due to hard work and entitlement.

All the research shows that for corporate organisations there are many benefits for having stronger representation of women across all segments of your business; from employee retention & satisfaction to improved financial results.

What corporate company is not looking for improved financial results?

In an Ideal World

In an ideal world quotas would not be needed, as women would be recognised for their hard work and the contributions they make to their organisations. Women would get access to education and opportunities at the same pace as their male counterparts.

When quotas are implemented, what we have seen is that they are achieved for the sake of achievement. However, what does not change is the true inclusion and appreciation of women for the values they bring to organisations across all roles, and seniority.

In an ideal world, female performance and leadership traits would be recognised and valued for what they bring to the table. Women would not be expected to embody male performance types and leadership traits to succeed.

Organisations would recognise the value of having more women at senior leadership tables, and throughout the organisation. They would identify what is stopping this from happening within their organisation, without blaming women. They would implement cultural change, as necessary.

The Same Game with Different Rules

As per a recent Oliver Wyman report the Leadership game is the same game but with different rules; men and women define effective leadership very differently.

Women value collaboration and team empowerment. Men, on the other hand, emphasise directness and decisiveness.

The problem is the system is still wired around the ‘old model’ that was built in an environment when the vast majority of employees were men.

By not shifting the leadership model more explicitly, we are letting the old norms deselect the very leaders we are seeking to grow, and making the journey to leadership for women much more challenging.

In an ideal world we would hold everyone to the same standards when it comes to giving opportunities, promotions and new responsibilities.

We would stop penalising women for being women.

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Treasa Fitzgibbon

Treasa Fitzgibbon

After a 22 year career in finance, I am a career coach & strategist for women who want to navigate & accelerate their careers.