International Women’s Day highlights gender equality in the workplace

Gender equality was the focus of International Women’s Day on 8 March 2020, with gender equality in politics, the media, healthcare and the workplace being some of the event’s key goals.

While women make up nearly half of the world’s population, they continue to be poorly represented in key leadership roles, according to the Global Gender Gap Report 2020. While some progress has been made, the gender gap at the top of the global corporate career ladder continues to be stubbornly hard to close. Of the companies that make the 2019 Fortune 500 List, 33 have a female CEO, up from 24 the year before. While this is an improvement, there’s still a long way to go as women make up just 6.6% of female CEOs on Fortune 500 List.

Global gender disparity in the workplace

In the UK, despite consecutive governments stressing that gender equality is a priority, the country has dropped to 21st place in the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Global Gender Gap rankings for education, political influence, economic gain and health. The gender pay gap in the UK now sits at 16% compared to just 7% in Norway and Sweden.

The WEF says that women may have to wait up to 100 years before they can expect to enjoy gender parity. The WEF attributes this gap to women being more likely to hold jobs that tend to be most affected by technology and automation, while also having less access to funding to enable them to become entrepreneurs and being less inclined to enter job industries that experience high growth.

Path to progress

 The UK has made some progress regarding female work, pay and leadership. Several companies and organisations in the UK have been concentrating on closing the leadership gender gap by introducing more inclusive policies to make the workplace environment more welcoming. Here are just two examples:


 Sky, the broadcasting giant, has committed to putting the necessary changes in place to achieve a 50/50 gender-split leadership team by the end of 2020 and every vacancy will require an equally split shortlist. It has also introduced a series of programmes such as Women into Leadership, Women in Technology and Home Service that aim to improve opportunities for women. The company has set up mentorship schemes that enable women to inspire and nurture the careers of junior staff and has introduced flexible working to help its workforce achieve a better work-life balance.

Marks and Spencer

Since revealing a mean pay gap of 12.3% and a mean bonus gap of 53.4%, retail giant Marks and Spencer has introduced a mentoring scheme and 1:1 coaching for its mid to senior level female employees to provide them with better opportunities to progress into leadership roles. Expectant and prospective parents are also given paid time off for IVF treatments, fostering and adoption meetings and prenatal appointments. The retailer has also committed to offering flexible working hours and allowing parents to choose term time and part-time working schedules.

Practical tips for improving gender equality

 With some businesses much further ahead in their pursuit of equality compared to others, here are some practical tips that all organisations can adopt in their workplaces to improve gender equality:

  • Incorporate skill-based assessment in recruitment
  • Promotions and recruitment based around structured interviews
  • Encourage salary negotiation
  • Ensure transparency in pay, reward and promotional processes
  • Appoint a diversity manager
  • Carry out a workplace diversity and inclusion survey
  • Improve workplace flexibility
  • Encourage take-up of shared parental leave
  • Recruit returners who have taken extended career breaks
  • Encourage mentoring
  • Only work with recruiters that promote equality and diversity

Gender equality in the workplace is more than just a well-meaning goal. It is a key way for employers to get the most out of their staff while helping to build a more competitive business.

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