Hiba Houmache, MiM student at ESSEC Business School, finalist in the 2019 CoBS student CSR article competition, and now Manager at ECLOR, voices out on the topic of Gender equality and how it can unlock prosperity for society
The 4th of April is an important day indeed. It is a day that reminds us of the existence of a significant inequality between men and women in the work place. In fact, if for a man, a working year lasts from January to December, a woman would need to work until the following 4th of April – four months more – in order to earn as much as her male counterpart. This wage gap represents an annual loss of $10,470 and a $418,800 lifetime loss for a 40-year career for women. Why does this gap still exist in an era where women are believed to be equal, as efficient and as productive as men? How can closing the discrepancy benefit societies and increase their prosperity?
Gender inequality in all walks of life
A survey carried out by the World Economic Forum in 2017 shows that a lot remains to be done in order for us to reach gender equality, especially in education and wages. In fact, according to the rankings, apart from Scandinavian countries like Iceland, Norway and Finland that score the highest in terms of gender equality, the disparities still exist in developed countries such as the United Kingdom, the United States of America and France. The UK ranks 15th and the United States 49th because women are paid on average 66% of men’s wage no matter what the job or the sector are. Indeed, even in female dominated sectors such as healthcare and education, men are still paid higher than their female counterparts. In education for instance, even though men represent only 2.5% of kindergarten teachers in the USA, they earn 13% more than their female counterparts.
Moreover, disparities exist even in sports. In the list of the 100 paid athletes worldwide, only one woman, Serena Williams, appears in the ranking among 99 men, and she is ranked 51st. And obviously, female team captains are paid less than their male counterparts. For example, Stephan Houghton, the female English team captain is paid £1,200 a week, whereas the former captain of the male team used to earn £300,000 per week.
Inequality exists not only in the work place, it starts with education. Although enrolment in primary school is compulsory, and many efforts have been made in this field, male enrolment is still higher. For a country as developed as the United Kingdom that has a woman as head of state, numbers are disappointing in terms of girls’ education. The monarchy ranked 36th in educational attainment, which is quite paradoxical for a society where girls represent a higher percentage in the population. These quantified disparities are the proof that the fight is not over and that changes need to occur.
Equality equals prosperity
Throughout history women have struggled to own their rights. They were believed to be inferior to men, treated differently based on untrue beliefs, assigned to house chores, meant to raise the children and expected to look after the household. However, today, mindsets have evolved, and women have been given the opportunity to prove that they are every bit as good as their male counterparts at work and that they can manage to balance between both their professional and personal lives.
Nowadays, women are more involved in the political life, they occupy more seats in parliaments. Indeed, their rate of representation has increased from 11.8% in 1998 to 23.5% in 2018 which shows that societies are seeking for more equality. Their participation improves democracy, quality of life and gender equality because they are more likely to fight for girls’ education, for women’s and minorities’ rights and to satisfy the citizens’ needs. For that matter, they appear to be more efficient than men in bringing concrete solutions to problems societies are facing.
Some are at the head of states like Angela Merkle, and Theresa May, others are running multi-million dollar companies like Indra Nooyi, former CEO of Pepsico and Irene Rosenfeld, the CEO of Kraft Foods. Today, even in countries like Saudi Arabia that resisted gender equality, women are no longer oppressed and are regarded as leverage for growth. As such, they are now allowed to take part in the work force and occupy jobs like their male counterparts in Saudi Arabia.
Their involvement and contribution in the labour market is a source of economic growth and social development. In fact, if we take the example of India, we can see that a simple tool for empowering women had a significant impact on a larger scale. The micro-credit initiated by the Grameen Bank has enabled rural women to become breadwinners, to start their own projects and increase their household income. Moreover, by lending them small amounts of money, their standard of living has improved, and they have become decision makers. Therefore, rural areas like Punjab have witnessed an improvement of livelihood and the onset of new agricultural activity – women have invested in animals and are able to make an income out of these investments.
Empowering women and guaranteeing gender equality not only benefit the economy but also society. Countries that are the most gender equal are also the ones who score the highest on happiness scale, like Finland, Norway and Denmark. Moreover, companies promoting gender equality are the ones with lower job turnovers, higher job satisfaction and higher rates of productivity. Multinationals like General Motors, L’Oréal and Kering that make it to the top rankings in terms of gender equality are not only well performing, but also tend to be more attractive and the values they share become a source of business advantages leading to higher financial returns.
Apart from the professional world, positive changes are also seen within families. When the parents share housework and childcare, their kids are seen to do better in school, they have lower rates of absenteeism, higher rates of achievement and the couple has a higher marital satisfaction. Thus, we can say that it is a win win situation.
Achieving gender equality
We have already seen that when women are on equal footing with men, countries do better, and societies live better. Despite the changes that have occurred in the past decade regarding women’s rights, progress in the matter is still to be made. Achieving gender equality starts with changing mindsets and promoting feminism: women are not identical to men, but they are their equals.
Confronting men and making gender visible to them is a step that might engage them to support gender equality. Improving girls’ self-confidence and giving them the opportunity to opt for whatever career they want is a step to more equality. Encouraging girls at school, changing the image given of women in the advertising industry and showing them that they don’t have to choose between their careers and family lives will indeed be a step forward.
In the work place, in order to close the wage gap, there should be more pay transparency – companies should disclose their wages and make this data public. In sports, a way to promote gender equality is by encouraging female sports, having women in positions of power as coaches, managers and owners of teams, and by covering and sponsoring more female sports events. Furthermore, in politics, women need to be more vocal and run for higher positions without having to choose between their jobs and families, like Pakistan’s Benazir Bhutto did in the early nineties when she campaigned while being pregnant and also gave birth while in office.
Keeping the 4th of April in mind will remind us of the necessity to fight more for gender equality because if we continue at this pace, the pay gap will be closed in 44 years. Young or old, educated or uneducated, white or black, women are capable of the best and their potential is to be benefited from. Empowering women is the key for companies to be more productive and successful, and for societies to be more prosperous and happier.
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- Read a related article: Gender and Power: Women on corporate boards.
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