Manager of the Global Programme on Business for Gender Equality, UNDP* *United Nations Development Programme
Ending gender inequality will take us more than 200 years. Worldwide, only 49% of women of working age participate in the labour force, compared with 76% of men. In some parts of the world, the figure for women is as low as 21%. Access to education is improving on a global scale but, even today, less than 5% of the world’s CEOs are women. Women account for 15% of the top managers in sub- Saharan Africa – and the stats fall to just 5% in North Africa and the Middle East. On average, women still earn 20% less than their male counterparts. The picture isn’t much brighter for women entrepreneurs either, as 79% of women have trouble accessing financial services (qualifying for credit cards or bank loans, for instance). And they are often denied property rights too. In some parts of Africa, land can only be owned by men.
In other words, half of the world’s brainpower remains underused, talent is going untapped and opportunities for innovation are slipping through our fingers. Some studies suggest that a 25% increase in the number of women in the labour force could add three trillion dollars to the global economy by 2025. Technology in general and the fintech sector in particular have a big role to play – especially in India and Africa – where mobile phones are now common. The internet opens the possibility for more and more people to access the wealth of knowledge available, find new opportunities and connect with new people. Education is still the single most important factor driving inclusion, but governments also need to work with the private sector to open doors for women on the job market. More and more businesses are taking voluntary measures to promote gender parity. However, there’s still a long way to go. The patriarchal culture in the workplace must be shaken up.
Organisations need to put a stop to all forms of discrimination, overhaul their recruitment practices, change the way they communicate, rethink their core values, become more flexible and appoint more women to managerial positions. Including a greater proportion of women in the labour market can also have a considerable impact on local communities. We set up Gender Equality Seal certification programmes to measure progress. A Chilean company that opted into the programme increased the number of female employees by 12% between 2013 and 2017. It slashed production costs by 70%, increased productivity by 36% and boosted employee satisfaction by 73%! The 600 companies around the world that have been certified under these international standards represent compelling case studies. Now it’s time to act and embrace diversity as a key factor in companies’ business strategies.