8 March 2016

The economics behind gender equality


Some women believe that the suffragette movement is over. Some people think that feminism has no place in 2016. I believe that every person, regardless of their gender, is entitled to their own view of women’s empowerment and equality.

However today on International Women’s Day, I can’t help but feeling frustrated that the $12 trillion that could be unlocked by 2025 if women’s participation in the labour force increased still feels beyond our reach. The latest McKinsey research shows that women continue to be underrepresented at every level in the corporate pipeline.

Gender equality is not a woman’s problem. Gender inequality is a societal, political and economic issue that affects every man and boy, woman and girl in our world.

There are many barriers to gender equality in our world, from the prevalence of gender-based violence, access to healthcare, education and legal and cultural rights, however I chose to focus on the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day: #pledgeforparity.

The gender pay gap persists, in many different ways in different areas, but particularly in the highest-paying occupations such as business, law, and medicine.

Women continue to be paid less than men all over the world, for a variety of reasons. President Obama stated his frustration that women still only make 77 cents for every dollar a man works in his most recent State of the Union speech.

The UN estimates that women continue to work longer hours than men, when both paid and unpaid work is accounted for. Worldwide women make up 50% of the labour force compared to 77% of men, and 64% of minimum wage workers are women.

There are proven positive impacts on the bottom line of companies who have more women in senior management. Accelerating gender equality in the workplace has not only of financial benefits, but has become a powerful drive of corporate reputation.

Gender equality practises within companies are improving and becoming more transparent. Compulsory gender pay gap reporting will be introduced for large companies with more than 250 staff from 2018. When the policy was announced as part of the government’s efforts to extend opportunity for all, the Prime Minister David Cameron stated “Opportunity is nothing without equality”. His commitment to “ending the gender pay gap in a generation” is warmly welcomed, if not somewhat unrealistic.

The policies to end unequal pay are supporting for the Chief Executive of the Chartered Institute of Management, Ann Francke who advocated transparency as a key driver to accelerate gender equality in the workplace. The Lord Davies Women on Boards report published late last year was another welcome move to increase the representation of women on FTSE 100 boards. However some argue that many of the companies that have committed to these policies and initiatives have failed to go far enough to take concrete action to meet the increasingly ambitious target for women to hold a third of boardroom seats by 2020.

The gender pay gap is unfortunately extremely complicated, and cannot be explained by one simple factor. Even though the Equal Pay Act was passed over 40 years ago, the current pay gap is estimated to be 19.2% for full- and part-time staff in the UK. There are multiple structural and cultural barriers preventing some women from accessing the same economic opportunities as men.

We have made significant progress in education and maternal mortality worldwide, and yet progress on women’s social and economic status in the workforce has stalled in many areas.

The ability for women and girls in our world to influence decisions affecting their lives and their economy, political and social opportunities is severely limited in many cases. We need to ensure that the structures in place are sufficient to support and ensure that women can excel in their chosen field.

$12 trillion is no laughing matter. Gender equality in the workplace is a key driver of economic growth and it should be regarded as a business issue first and foremost, rather than simple a “woman’s issue”.

Emily Revess is a Director of Conservative Future Women, Campaign Coordinator for 50:50 Parliament and an MSc student at LSE. She is also an Ambassador for the Red Light Campaign and UK Ambassador for One Young World.