International Women’s Day on March 8 serves as a continuing reminder that while women are in an ongoing struggle for gender equality, we’re inspired by the positive signals that continue to – slowly but surely – elevate their position in society. In the last century, we’ve seen women’s suffrage, economic rights, and shared parental arrangements become realities across the world. Women have also advanced in the world of work, and now represent around 40 percent of the global labor force. In many countries, it is now illegal for gender to impact employee compensation and the introduction of shared parental leave policies reflects that a fairer division of labor in the home is also needed. These policies not only enable women to continue their desired career progression, but also give fathers or secondary caregivers greater opportunity to bond and care for their children in infancy.
Despite this momentum, other recent events have tempered our positive outlook. Women continue to be underrepresented throughout the workforce, from entry-level positions up to the C-suite. This disparity widens moving up the career ladder, with women accounting for just 18 percent of C-level employees. The picture is even bleaker when you focus on women of color, who hold a mere three percent of these senior roles. Pay equality policies have enshrined gender discrimination in law but have also masked the bigger issue of the gender pay gap, which can only be fixed by ensuring equal gender representation across all levels, rather than merely making the data more transparent.
The gig economy, which offers greater work flexibility and initially seems to be a positive trend for women, has had limited impact to date. For example, a recent Uber study indicated that women earn seven percent less than male drivers even though the journey allocation algorithm does not discriminate. Instead, the gap is driven by social limitations, notably the fact that female employees drive less often and in less lucrative locations. It’s examples like these that highlight that work flexibility alone is not enough to reduce the gap. Instead, change is required at both a societal and organizational level.
Let’s set this against a clear backdrop: we know that diversity is good for business. A recent study showed that inclusive teams made smarter business decisions 87 percent of the time, and showed stronger results 60 percent of the time. Many organizations have recognized this reality, introducing policies and programs that reflect a desire to attract, support, and retain great women. These are met with mixed success, and often the required behavioral change is much harder, more complex, and more deeply rooted.
At North Highland, we’re seeing increased demand from clients in the area of behavioral change. Recognizing that behaviors often lag policy changes, improvements that companies make now to reduce the gender pay gap will not be reflected in their public disclosures until 2019 at the earliest. With this in mind, many companies are focusing on understanding the root cause and identifying any biased behaviors to ensure that a culture of inclusion is promoted across the organization.
In the spirit of this year’s “Press for Progress” International Women’s Day, we’ll focus on doing what we do best: helping companies plot their next move towards building a better, more equal future, today. Along the way, we’ll reflect on the innovative and successful ways that organizations have advanced diversity, offering insight into actionable behavioral change tactics that you can implement in your own organization. Stay tuned.
This piece was co-authored by: Alice Morton
Alice Morton is a product expert in North Highland’s Marketing & Design capability, and has been leading women in North Highland’s London Chapter, which focuses on attracting, developing, and retaining great women in our organization.