If there’s one thing we’re talking about this month, it’s about how women can claim their seat and make the world a better place. But the first step before action is reflection – the reflection that we’re living in an unequal society. Whether we’re talking about business, politics or finances, women generally have a lesser footing than their male counterparts.
Of course, this is changing, and that change is looking increasingly positive. But, in case you need some backup ammunition, what is the wider benefit of striving for equality? Let’s hone in on the specifics of where we are, where we need to go and what the outcome might be if more women claimed their seat in the world.
Women are underrepresented in business
Things have changed quite quickly. In fact, as recently as just 50 years ago, only 50% of single women were in work in the US, whilst 40% of married women were employed. Fast forward just 30 years and women’s representation in the labour force peaked at around 74% in the mid 1990s, in comparison to around 94% of men.
Since then, this figure has struggled to climb above the 75% mark and there are many reasons why this number has now sadly plateaued. But if we’re looking at women’s participation in the workplace, the simple act of working fails to paint the entire picture. Because whilst women are now better represented in the workplace, they’re still struggling to break the so-called glass ceiling once they get their foot in the door.
Of the 100 companies that make up the FTSE 100, only three have more than 50% women in leadership. And when we look at how many women are at the helm of a CEO in those 100 companies, the figure stands at eight. This is progress, but we’re not quite done yet.
Much to our dismay, the lack of representation doesn’t stop at the senior roles that a woman can climb the career ladder to reach - women continue to fight for their positions on company boards. France is the only country in the entire European Union to have hit the 40% mark of female representation in these crucial decision-making forums. Vive la France! What’s going on for the rest of Europe?!
This reality, however, results in a significantly missed opportunity that we should all be taking as a huge positive. The overwhelmingly good news is that McKinsey research shows that the companies that have gender diversity deliver 21% more profitability, whilst having women on the executive team leads to 25% more profitability. So how can we help companies to get there?
The obstacles in a woman's way matter
Of course, women aren’t underrepresented in business because they choose to be. It’s down to the institutional roadblocks women are routinely forced to clamber over. Lead 5050, a company set up to coach companies through their gender equality journey, told Female Invest that they frequently hear from companies that they’re stumped: they feel like they’re advertising senior roles only for no women to apply for them. What’s the bigger picture?
The seat is yours to claim.
Well whatever the picture is, Lead 5050 knows more than anyone that gender equality in leadership is not a simple tick box activity. It’s about wider overarching changes that might not have even been considered by those in senior positions (which are, let’s be honest, likely to be men based on the above stats).
So why aren’t women applying for jobs? Well let’s take breastfeeding as an example. Women who are feeding children may be put off returning to work because the structure and facilities aren’t in place to support a crucial part of women’s childrearing story. Because whilst it shouldn’t be such a taboo, many would feel uncomfortable expressing or feeding over the photocopier. It’s up to the workplace to change that.
The world would be more profitable
Lead 5050 found that companies that were willing to use an area (that most had already anyway) as a space for women to breastfeed were more likely to create a welcoming environment for women and therefore encourage women to progress to positions of leadership.
The benefits don’t stop at company level though. A further study by the McKinsey Institute found that in if women had the same level of opportunities to progress in the world of work as men do, then nearly $770 billion would be added to the economy in India and $150 billion in Canada. We’re talking about big numbers here!
Politicians can help break the walls for us
The obstacles exist, so who should be chipping away at the glass ceilings on the sideline for us? The higher powers that be - the government! And things are looking up.
In the UK, the government implemented a mandatory system of gender reporting within businesses, which was then adopted by Australia and Spain. The aim was to try and hold companies accountable to their gender equality policies and progress. In Spain and Australia, they took it one step further. So, if the company isn’t seen to be doing enough to work towards gender equality then they can be fined. That’s one way to help women smash the glass ceiling!
But in the same way that male CEOs might not think about the need for a breastfeeding room, male politicians might not think about the need for a menopause policy. Or shared paternity and maternity leave. Or policies to improve childcare provisions for women wanting to return to work. And when 75% of global national representatives are men, how can we expect the provisions to be put in place to facilitate women’s needs?
In case you wanted a full view on the lack of representation in politics, we’ve got your back! According to the UN, there are only 19 countries in the world who have a woman at the Head of the Government. As of January 1st 2023, there are only 31 countries where women serve as heads of state and government, depending on the local system. With a debated total of 195 countries in the world, and just over 30 with women at the helm, it’s been predicted that we won’t reach gender equality in politics for another 130 years.
A world with more women in politics
But there is some more good news! There is clear evidence that having women in notable political positions significantly improves policies that benefit women. Across the globe in India, it was found that women-led councils had better success rates at implementing water and sanitation projects. Meanwhile in Norway, there was a clear relationship established between childcare provisions in regions that had higher female representation at state level.
And India is proof that when women have more of a foot in the political door, it’s more likely female voters will take themselves to the polling station. Sort of like a happy ripple effect – the more women are represented in politics, the more likely that women are to vote and the more likely that their policies will benefit gender equality as a whole. That’s a domino effect we can all jump on board with, surely.
And what about women’s wealth?
But what about when it comes to managing what we can control: our finances? According to a study by Catalyst, women globally control over $31.8 trillion in spending. In the words of a famous singer, who runs the world?! And according to Forbes, women influence over 85% of consumer spending in the US. Back to those big numbers!
So why is it that we’re retiring with nearly half the amount of money in our pensions than men? The simple answer is reflected in the stats above – that the choices made in society mean women struggle to earn as much and statistically make choices that impact their career average earnings.
The good news is that this too can be reversed. Whilst an astounding 91% of women think men are better investors, studies by Nasdaq show that actually women outperform men when they chose their own investments.
What better indication that we need to learn to back ourselves as women. If more women invested what they did earn, progress towards closing the estimated two century gap in wealth between genders could be so much quicker. Which is why we’re constantly advocating for women to invest their money. Why? Because money is power. Money is choice. Money is freedom.
It's time for women to claim their seat
The reality is that when women are able to find their voice and claim their seat in business, politics and finance, the world is undeniably a better place. Like a positive cycle, politics influences business, which influences leaders and pay, which influences our earnings, wealth and livelihoods. Why? Because we have the ability to make choices and control our destiny.
Which is why over the course of May, we’re championing women to drive the change quicker by claiming their seat. Because if women find it in themselves to overcome the obstacles in their way, society as a whole would achieve more and create a world where everyone, regardless of gender, background, or ethnicity is equal. That looks like a powerful world, don’t you think?