By Yoko Kojima.
Image from the Global Gender Gap Report 2020
In December 2019, the World Economic Forum released a report titled ”Global Gender Gap Report 2020”, in which it was predicted that it will take 99.5 years to reach gender parity with the current velocity of the progress (World Economic Forum). According to the report, in the last decade the differential in men’s and women’s median income in OECD countries has only been reduced by 1 percentage point, from 14.5% to 13.5% . Similarly the ratio of men and women in managerial positions in the private and public sector is roughly 16:9, 64% men and 36% women globally, which is far from the 50-50 representation (World Economic Forum).
Many companies now have strategies to hire more women to managerial positions, providing childcare leave for both men and women and setting up a task force to promote diversity. Although there has been significant attention to promote gender-equality in the workplace over the past few decades, wage gap and inequal representation haven’t been solved. A reason for hindered progress is the underlying culture we share in our society. If the business case is clear and the moral case is clear too, then the reason why the needle is not moving is culture (Prising).
In order for businesses to forester the progress of achieving gender parity, businesses should form a holistic strategy which addresses not only the gender quota, but the change in underlying organizational culture. Analyzing some of the major historical social changes such as abolision of slavery, gaining women’s voting right and transition from communism to democracy could provide insights into what elements are required for a cultural change.
Piotr Sztompka, a Polish sociologist who studied the transition of Poland from communism to democracy and open market, argues that social change requires elements including the following; collective actions, roles of individuals and a variety of specialized groups (Sztompka).
- Collective actions taken by a large number and variety of individuals
The first crucial element is actions taken by a large number of individuals within the organization. How many supporters are required for a new culture to be embedded? A study conducted by Everett M. Rogers, an American sociologist at University of New Mexico found that it takes 5% of the population to support a new idea for it to become embedded into a society, while the number goes up to 20% for a movement to become unstoppable (Everett). These findings could serve as a benchmark for a company to measure the progress of the cultural change of their organizations. In addition, the actions must be taken not only by the management of the company but also by a variety of individuals within the company including young professionals, middle managers, women and men.
- The roles undertaken by individuals
Unconscious-bias is another major issue and it plays out on the individual level. Individuals must change their mental models and behaviors to mitigate the biases that women are up against. Companies with smaller gender disparities in representation have conducted unconscious-bias training to 50% of the employees while the remaining companies provided the training to only 25% of employees (McKinsey & Company).
- A variety of specialised groups / systems that come together to enact different types of change
There are a handful of small changes that need to be made to reach gender parity depending on what industry the companies operate and the level of progress they have made so far. For example, in the management consulting industry one of the most profound systematic problems is the performance evaluation system which incentivizes long working hours. Employees are assessed by the hour they billed on clients. This incentive system has been encouraging employees to work longer hours, resulting in female professionals with children to be considered less as a candidate for a manager position.
It has only been 60 years since women gained the right to vote. Does this mean we should be optimistic about the current progress made towards gender-equality? As the world collectively decided to adopt Sustainable Development Goals in 2015 at the UN summit, including the goal 5 Gender Equality, we must accelerate the progress to achieve parity by 2030. Businesses could develop more effective gender strategy by incorporating elements learned in social science of change and make a cultural change within the organization.
- World Economic Forum. Global Gender Gap Report 2020. Switzerland, 2019.
- Sztompka, Piotr. The Sociology of Social Change. Wiley-Blackwell, 1993.
- McKinsey & Company. Women in Workplace 2020. 30 9 2020.
- Prising, Jonas. Social Mobility: Getting to 50-50 Gender Parity Fareed Zakaria. 23 January 2020.
- Everett, Rogers. Diffusion of Innovation. New York: Macmillan Free Press, 1983.