Men are not really from Mars and women are not from Venus. Neurologically, they are remarkably similar, yet life outcomes vary for men and women with comparable abilities. With no biological basis, society rewards certain traits more than others, an issue that needs to be studied, understood and tackled.
What is parity?
The World Economic Forum (WEF) uses four key indicators to assess if women are at par with men in any given society:
- Economic participation and opportunity, including leadership and access to assets
- Educational attainment, which reduces mortality, increases earnings and fosters investment in children
- Health and survival, with a multiplier effect on the family
- Political empowerment, elevating issues with broad societal impact
Of these, economic parity is critically important as it underpins many aspects of life.
Why is economic parity important?
In the words of Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary General, “Gender equality is more than a goal in itself. It is a precondition for meeting the challenge of reducing poverty, promoting sustainable development and building good governance.”
Women make up half of the world population so it is only logical that we would expect key indicators to be equal for both sexes. Gender parity also yields significant economic dividends: studies show that closing 25% of the gender gap in economic participation by 2025 could add US$5.3 trillion to the world economy. Besides, empowering women allows society to make full use of one of the most under-utilized business resources
Why are we talking about it now?
Even today, despite all the progress with political rights, economic imperatives and generational changes in attitude, women earn less than men in almost all countries, in all sectors.
The overall global gender gap is closing across the world, but it will still take a century to attain full parity. Political parity is also one century away. The economic gender gap, sadly, has widened since last year and is not expected to close for another 217 years - key indicators have regressed to where they were in 2008.
Why the disparity?
One key metric that is consistently revealed across surveys is leadership. Only 22% senior managers are women, impacting the ability of that demographic to set the agenda, define priorities and deliver progress.
Another major differentiator is in the field of study and the occupational gender gap. Women are over-represented in caregiving, unpaid work, education, health and welfare, typically tied to low wages. They are vastly under-represented in the STEM areas, Engineering, Technology and Manufacturing / Construction, which tend to command high salaries.
Workplace culture is a limiting factor too. Only 20% of women aged 30+ hold ICT-related degrees and stay in STEM. Socio-cultural factors, limited access to technology and unconscious bias discourage women from thriving in these highly rewarding sectors.
What are the solutions?
Leadership: Boosting female leadership makes economic sense, results in more inclusive outputs and has a cascading effect. Companies with top quartile representation of women in executive committees can show up to 47% more return on equity than those with no women at the top. Increased gender diversity in leadership results in better population representation, increased focus on corporate sustainability and more women being hired.
Education: Encouraging more gender balance in fields of study would even out sectors, create more inclusive cultures across the board and allow women to benefit from high-paying career choices. Task forces in Chile, Argentina and Panama have had success in building public-private forums to bring more women into the economy, catalyse new collaboration and promote action at a national level.
Individual accountability: Achieving gender parity is not the responsibility of politicians, or business leaders, or educationists alone. It requires societal buy-in to make it happen. Former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon phrased it thus: “Achieving gender equality requires the engagement of women and men, girls and boys. It is everyone's responsibility."
Tapping fully into the economic potential of women makes sense in every way. Together, we can reduce the horizon for economic parity and empower generations of women to reach their full potential. Let’s start today – we have no time to lose.
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