Gender equality in the workplace has been a topic that I have followed with great interest for some time. Looking around the world, we can now see many women who have smashed through the glass ceiling to be recognized as leaders on a world stage. Just think of Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund, and Janet Yellen, Governor of the Federal Reserve to name a few.
But its not just at the top echelons of global leadership where women are having an impact. Young working women these days are making more money relative to men of the same age than occurred in previous generations. Pew Research Center data shows that in 2012, young women earned 93% of the average hourly wage of men, whereas in 1980 it was closer to 65%.
And yet, despite the obvious and quantifiable gains that have been made over the last 20-30 years, the statistics only tell part of the story. There is still a significant proportion of the population that believe that society favours men over women. Pew Research reports that this figure has closed around 20 points in the last 20 years – down to 45%. Again, a significant improvement.
But let’s dwell on this perception for a moment. More than four in ten people believe that men are favoured in society.
When we delve into the Pew statistics a little more deeply, we find something else that is worryingly related. The fantastic gains that have been made by women over the last two or three decades has not translated to an increased sense of optimism in young working women. In fact, the report explains, “Young women today are more likely than young men to say women are paid less for doing the same job and men have easier access to top executive jobs.” See below for the raw facts and data.
In a recent Harvard Business Review blog post, Avivah Wittenberg-Cox, suggested that it was time for a new discussion on women in leadership. And based on these statistics and the underlying perceptions that inform them, I whole-heartedly agree. For I believe that this combination of data and perception can be immensely damaging not just to individuals but to our business ecosystem and to our economy. It doesn’t just make sense that we have more women on boards, in leadership positions and in our workplaces just for the sake of equality. There is a strong performance argument as well. Moreover, gender diversity provides a range of benefits from role modelling to mentoring opportunities and beyond.
But as Wittenberg-Cox explains:
Instead of continuing to discuss the problem, we ought to present solutions: roadmaps to businesses that are better balanced, arguments that help companies and managers understand and benefit from shifting global gender balances. The shift is away from wondering what is wrong with women who don’t make it to the top, and towards analysing what is right with companies and leaders that do build gender balanced leadership teams – and tap into the resulting competitive edge.
And this leads me to the questions that we must all ask ourselves – “what are we doing that is RIGHT and HOW is it contributing to our competitive advantage?”
The answer to these questions go to the heart of leadership in the 21st century. Because, let’s face it, there are demographic, cultural, social and economic challenges ahead of us, and we need all the competitive advantage we can muster. And articulating the answers to these questions will create spaces and opportunities for women across the workplace at every level.
After all, we have not reached parity as yet. There’s still some improvement to be made and it is within our power to make that happen in the decade ahead of us. Let’s close the gap.
Nina Nets It Out: Statistics only ever tell part of a story. And when it comes to women in the workplace, we need to move beyond an analysis of the numbers towards programs designed to unlock the value that women provide to organizations. What are you doing this week, this month and this year?