International Women’s Day is an important time to take a long hard look at the barriers to participation for women in the workplace, and talk about how we can continue to push for change.
Female leadership is vital for paving the way for society to take notice and for companies improve their approach to gender diversity — and for other women to have role models they can emulate.
There is still a long way to go, as only a small number of countries are approaching anything like gender equality when it comes to leadership roles. Just 4.9% of Fortune 500 CEOs are female and, worryingly, the gender pay gap is actually widening in some cases — in the UK, the difference between male and female pay for managers, directors and senior officials has actually increased by 2% to 15.9% since 2018.
Still, on International Women’s Day 2020, it’s encouraging to see no fewer than six women ran for president of the world’s largest economy. And, in terms of the number of women in leadership roles globally, there are modest signs of improvement. According to recent research from the World Economic Forum, 36% of senior private-sector managers and public-sector officials are women — a 2% year-on-year increase.
I believe that in 2020 we will see more visible examples of female entrepreneurs and company leaders. This will starting to have a positive effect on women’s self-belief and career aspirations. I think each year, we have more visibility around women in business. I see more articles written by women, more women starting companies, more CEOs and more female board members.
Those women have always been out there. What has changed is the courage women have to voice their ambition and competence to do those jobs. Prior to today, there was more of a defeatist attitude but now it is becoming commonplace to say: ‘Hey, look at me, I can add value.’
The equal opportunities policy and the diversity of my teams is a major reason why I choose to remain with IWG. We are lucky in that our gender base is getting closer every year to be equally balanced. We embrace hiring the best person for the job and that has always brought us a gender balance.
And because we operate in so many countries, we have always been blessed with such strong diversity when it comes to the workforce and the senior leadership team. The diversity of our leadership team is definitely a competitive advantage: we’re able to look at the same challenge from a lot of different angles.
The right company culture is vital for empowering women to succeed — and it needs to be one that recognises and communicates how diversity strengthens teams. But part and parcel of this is creating the right working conditions for as many different demographics to be part of the workforce as possible — regardless of gender, age, race, mental or physical health, or family commitments.
A good place for companies to start is by introducing a flexible working policy that gives employees more freedom over how, when and where they work. Another meaningful step in the right direction towards equal opportunities is offering paid parental leave for both genders — whether it’s enforced by national law or not.
I feel hopeful about Generation Z’s attitudes towards diversity, and their willingness to take a stand when it comes to choosing their employer. Listening to upcoming generations is amazing. They are very clear of mind as to what they stand for and the values of companies they want to work for. It is about making a difference for them, and that forces a different kind of diversity in companies.
On an individual level, I feel it’s our duty to forge a path for other women to follow — and to lead by example. Many times, you just need someone to show you it can be done. I hope, as I continue on my journey, to inspire others.
Lorraine Veber is the Group Chief Customer Officer of International Workplace Group