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Addressing the gender gap in leadership

Addressing the gender gap in leadership

Can we realistically wait over a century until governments, businesses and other organisations get the full benefit of equal leadership by men and women?

Diversity is shown to improve innovation and creative problem solving. It is here this week in Jordan where I have brought this message to the annual Women in Parliaments Global Forum Summit.

Given the current challenges facing the region, policymakers need new solutions and approaches to tackle these issues. With a high representation of female parliamentarians from around the world present this week, the summit presents a unique opportunity for all of us to discuss how countries empowered by diverse representative bodies can address the specific issues facing the global agenda. It is also a time to talk about disruption. Digital technologies are driving substantial change in economic, social and physical systems globally. These technologies, and the socioeconomic trends they are promoting, are a crucial enabler of the empowerment agenda.

Countless studies have underscored that having diverse and inclusive leadership — which include a balance of men and women as well as people with many other differences like education, experience, domain expertise etc. — stimulates innovation and generate new ways of problem-solving, all of which leads to better decision-making and results.

For example, the World Bank’s Gender Action Plan shows that more gender equality in the workplace brings improved productivity, better financial performance and higher GDP. But then other studies like the World Economic Forum’s 2015 Global Gender Gap Report produce frustrating headlines with its estimations that it will take 117 years to achieve global gender parity in the workplace.

Can we realistically wait over a century until governments, businesses and other organisations get the full benefit of equal leadership by men and women?

Businesses are getting the message and have little patience to wait a lifetime to reach parity.

Last month, EY released a global survey of 350 C-suite executives across seven private sector industries and 51 countries measuring gender parity within industry.

Of this group surveyed, more than 50 per cent of business leaders said they needed to do more to attract, retain and promote women into leadership positions. A further 69 per cent of executives believe that their organisations will achieve gender parity on their executive boards within the next 25 years despite little progress being made within their organisations. These results are in stark contrast to the World Economic Forum’s broader prediction of 117 years to gender parity across the workforce.

Policymakers need to get on board and speed the process up on their side. Women make up 51 per cent of the world’s population. But when looking at the workforce of G20 governments – research from the Global Government Forum indicates that women account for approximately 48 per cent of the overall public sector workforce. They also represent less than 23 per cent of public sector leadership across the G20.

The lack of female representation in policymaking matters every bit as much as in the corporate boardroom. Research supports the view that the presence of women in public leadership makes a real difference. Women are more likely to act in a bipartisan manner, propose new ideas and issues to the policy table and oversee legislative outcomes that are more inclusive of the whole population.

Ultimately, public sector organisations that are unable to access top talent to lead change and redesign services will fall short, especially if women remain significantly underrepresented in senior public sector leadership positions.

It is clear that more must be done to ensure that governments across the world are able to make the most of all the talent available to solve the challenges – and grasp the opportunities – they face.

Increasing workforce diversity not only fosters innovation but also helps to drive up quality within that workforce, increasing the pool of talent and skills available to meet changing needs in a time of large-scale and rapidly accelerating change.

As major employers in the countries they serve, governments’ ability to effect social change is not limited to the laws they pass and the services they provide. They can, and should, lead by example to ensure that women are participating fully in the workforce and are strongly represented in leadership roles around the world.

And what of the role for digital disruption? Driving real change on the empowerment agenda demands strong leadership and government institutions that exemplify the transition to gender parity they want to see. At the same time, the tools on the ground need a real overhaul. This is where digital comes in.

We know that women continue to earn less, have fewer assets and are disproportionately engaged in vulnerable and low-paying activities. On average, women are paid 24 per cent less than men globally for the same work. Furthermore, 75 per cent of female employment in developing regions is informal and unprotected. What if women could drive more accountability and transparency through digital platforms? Or could gain increasing access to information, to financial services, global markets and business efficiencies? In empowering women’s rights and driving economic potential, digital can link this top-down agenda with bottom-up change. Smart digital policy will be an important complement to inclusive leadership to drive change on women’s empowerment.

Rohan Malik is deputy global government and public sector leader and emerging markets Leader at EY
The views reflected in this article are the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the global EY organisation or its member firms.

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