Gender Diversity Policies ‘Do Little for Women’s Career Progression’

Women continue to be underrepresented at most levels in the workforce and are making little in their careers despite the past two decades of organisational efforts to achieve gender diversity and equality, according to global research from Mercer.

In its report, entitled
‘When Women Thrive, Businesses Thrive’
, the firm says its survey suggests that if current approaches continue unchanged, only one-third of executive positions will be held by women over the next 10 years.

In the mature economies of the US and Canada, however, just one-fourth of women will hold executive positions by 2024, while female representation in developing countries is expected to grow more rapidly.

“While the diversity efforts of the past several decades have resulted in some improvements in women’s participation rates and career trajectories, our research shows that we’re still decades away from true gender equality – if we keep doing what we’re doing,” said Pat Milligan, president of Mercer’s North America rRegion. “It’s time to act differently to realise the benefit of their full participation and address the unique needs of female employees.”

Mercer’s research assesses the impact of organisational practices and policies on the representation and advancement of women in the workforce. Despite making up 41% of the workforce globally, women’s highest representation among all career levels is in support staff roles. Women make up 40% of the workforce at the professional level and 36% at the managerial level, but only 26% of senior managers and 19% of executives.

“Our research shows employers that are focused on holistic solutions to build diversity are most successful – and organisations applying predictive analytics to link specific programmes and talent strategies to the advancement, engagement, and retention of women are most effective,” said Brian Levine, innovation leader for Mercer’s North America workforce strategy and analytics consulting business.

Key drivers of gender diversity

Mercer’s research shows that the active involvement of senior leaders in gender diversity leads to greater, accelerated representation of women in executive roles more so than accountability alone. Yet 56% of organisations indicate that their senior executives are actively involved in diversity and inclusion programmes.

Furthermore, a dedicated team responsible for pay equity leads to more women in senior roles while common policies – those intended to ensure equity through flexible work schedules and leave programmes – are, in the absence of management, associated with slower improvement in the number of women in leadership positions.

The research also shows that non-traditional solutions to gender diversity positively impact an organisation’s long-term ability to engage and retain female talent. For instance, more diverse retirement programmes, including monitoring savings by gender, providing investment training customised to different gender realities, and gender-specific health education campaigns correlate with greater representation of women at senior levels. Yet, fewer than 15% of organisations monitor savings and offer retirement programmes customised to different gender behaviours.

“Clearly, companies can do better in addressing and progressing gender equality in the workplace and leveraging the capabilities of a diverse workforce,” said Milligan. “Given the size of the untapped female workforce, greater participation of women has major implications for the economic and social development of communities and nations as well as business outcomes and performance.”

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