Time for action: breaking down barriers to gender equality in business

In the wake of the recently released Fortune 500 Europe list, the glaring statistic that women CEOs constitute only 7% of the total is cause for concern. When we delve deeper and look at factors such as race, ethnicity, sexuality and class, the disparities become even more apparent.

The nine-to-five workplace, conceived in the 1950s by men for men, ignored responsibilities outside of work, primarily those related to the home. Unfortunately, despite the evolution of societal norms and the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, the workplace remains entrenched in a bygone age that supports the prevailing power structures.

This outdated scenario is unsustainable. Countless research studies, including Catalyst's, consistently demonstrate that workplace diversity, equity and inclusion contribute to increased revenue, reduced costs, greater innovation, higher employee engagement, higher productivity and lower turnover. Such diversity serves as a key competitive advantage for organisations, allowing them to better understand and cater to their diverse customer bases.

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Faced with talent shortages, organisations must prioritise the advancement of skilled employees over the time-consuming and costly process of recruiting and training new staff. A recent PwC study underscores this urgency, revealing that 26% of workers plan to leave their jobs in the next 12 months, with organisational purpose, company culture and inclusion ranking high among employee concerns.

Retaining staff and establishing diversity and inclusion proof points are becoming increasingly crucial for attracting top talent. Among employees aged 18 to 24, 56% hesitate to accept a job offer from an organisation lacking a diverse leadership team. Women are particularly drawn to organisations that exhibit fairness through high representation in top management positions.

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In our daily work, we often witness diversity and inclusion initiatives treated like a football, kicked around by different departments or individuals working in isolation. Creating equity and inclusion is not a one-time effort but an ongoing challenge that requires continuous commitment.

According to Deloitte’s Women @ Work 2023 report, nine out of 10 women (92%) do not believe that their employer is taking concrete steps to deliver on its commitment to gender equality, with nearly half (48%) saying there has been no increase in their employer’s support for women over the past year.

One effective avenue for change is to embrace a flexible work culture, not only benefiting women with caregiving responsibilities but also aligning with the preferences of most workers. Catalyst research indicates that without flexible work, women are more likely to scale back their workplace aspirations. Whereas, women with remote work access are almost a third (32%) less likely to leave their jobs in the next year.

Younger generations, too, are resisting traditional office-centric work cultures. A viral video of a Gen Z TikToker lamenting the constraints of a nine-to-five job resonated with many, highlighting the growing desire for flexibility, particularly when factors like long commutes are considered. Technological advancements have rendered the need for rigid desk-bound hours obsolete; it's time to trust employees to deliver results without unnecessary constraints.

Closing the gender pay gap will empower women and deliver economic growth

As the UK marked Equal Pay Day on 22 November 2023, with the Fawcett Society revealing a 28-year timeline to correct the gender pay gap, the urgent question arises: are we willing to wait this long for a fair playing field? The answer, for many, is a resounding no. It's time for organisations to take intentional steps, scrutinise their data, analyse metrics, set targets, and commit to creating a workplace that is truly equitable and thriving. There's no magic formula or quick fix, but accountability is key to making lasting positive changes.

Let's move beyond endless discussions and treating DEI as a short-term project with an end date. Instead, companies should focus on diversity not merely as a checkbox but as a pivotal talent issue. Becoming an industry leader means embracing the entire spectrum of talent, rather than confining efforts to a privileged few. In the dynamic landscape of today's global marketplace, this approach is not just sensible, it's a strategic business imperative. It’s also the right thing to do.

Embracing transformation and working toward a truly equitable environment isn't just good for workers, it's good for society as a whole. The time for action is now. Let's get the job done.

By Lucy Kallin, executive director, EMEA, Catalyst