An International Women's Day unlike any other?

For well over 100 years, International Women’s Day has been a global call to action for accelerating women’s equality. Over the past two decades, some gaps have indeed narrowed, while others have remained stubbornly unchanged or even worsened.

A Bloomberg News analysis found a narrowing of the gap in management positions held by women and a growing share of female lawmakers. Yet the gender pay gap remained more or less the same, and the number of women graduating in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) fields actually fell. According to the UN Global Compact, in 2018, women held just 17% of all corporate board seats globally. An alarming 20% of Fortune Global 200 companies do not have a single woman on their board.

Now, in just one year, COVID-19 has reversed at least a decade of already slow progress for gender equality around the world. Research from McKinsey showed that while women make up 39% of the global workforce, they accounted for 54% of overall job losses as of May 2020, and women are overrepresented in the industries expected to decline due to COVID impacts. Gender biases that already existed at home have been exacerbated, with a report from UN Women finding that although both women and men found an increase in unpaid work at home, women are still undertaking the majority of these tasks.

What’s a company to do?
Women are not hiding from job opportunities; on the contrary, they are raring to step up! Companies could take this moment to examine how their own cultures, policies and recruitment programmes act as a barrier to hiring more women, recognising that reducing bias in recruitment and promotion decisions is a necessity, not a ‘nice to have’. Yet without a workforce that is bought-in, engaged, and excited about the prospect of more women at every level, these initiatives will probably fall flat.

Stakeholders are paying attention. My colleague Stephen Butler, Director of Investor Engagement and ESG Disclosure at Luminous, said: “Investors are looking for transparency from companies on the diversity of the workforces, and the COVID-19 pandemic will only intensify that focus. My team and I will be strongly encouraging companies to talk about how COVID has affected their gender parity and robustly disclose how the business has done everything possible to mitigate the impact. It is important that companies give as much context to data as possible; for example, rather than a business just offering the number of women employed, state whether this changed as a result of the pandemic, communicate whether the company is satisfied with the number, how it compares to others in the industry and what the goal for the future is.”

For employers, the playing field has changed. As my colleague Sheila Morrison, Director of Brand and Culture at Luminous, commented: “It will be very interesting to see how companies navigate the ‘return to the office’ post COVID. What does a hybrid working model look like? And how do companies ensure new ways of working do not exacerbate inequities? There is a possibility that men may flock back to the office while women with children may choose to work more from home. What does that mean for those casual water cooler conversations or stairwell chats? Women may not be part of the conversation. And when you’re not part of the conversation, you’re not making decisions and you’re not getting promoted. Employers need to think long and hard about the knock-on effects and how to manage them.”

It’s time to act. We all know that the road to gender parity is long – but let’s not make it any longer than necessary.

How we help
Our teams across Investor Engagement & ESG Disclosure, Sustainability & Impact, and Brand & Culture can help you think through your communications and engagement strategies for gender equality. For example:

  • Disclosure of gender diversity and pay gap metrics
  • Engaging your staff to support and promote women and other underrepresented groups
  • Thinking through the gender-specific challenges of a post-COVID workplace return

If you would like to discuss how Luminous can help you on these or related issues, please get in touch.