• Opinion
  • January 14, 2019
  • 8 minutes
  • 1

How and why to use your own power to improve workplace gender equality

Opinion: From procurement to pensions and savings, there are concrete steps you can take

gender pay

This piece is part of a special series on Gender-Smart Investing, following the world’s first ever Gender-Smart Investing Summit in 2018.

It was written by Jo Andrews, a co-founder of Equileap. For more like this, see our gender equality newsfeed.

Back to work to find that the problems on your desk didn’t magically evaporate over the break? Here’s guessing that one of the hot topics lurking in many inboxes this year will be progress on gender balance and gender pay parity. The cry for quick fixes increases in volume but solutions are notable by their absence.

It’s important to remember that this is more than a matter of fairness. There is an excellent business case for better gender diversity. A weight of independent evidence shows that organisations with a good gender balance (between 40%-60%) tend to have lower risks and above trend returns, they make better decisions and produce better results.

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Last year, the UK’s gender pay gap reporting — the world’s first — revealed some breath-taking inequalities. This year’s figures are just starting to come in and, so far, there’s not much change — despite lots of promises.

It is slow work that will take time to pay off — but every one of us, female or male, working for governments, companies, NGOs or just ourselves, has the capacity to speed this up. There is now a wealth of data on how workplaces compare on gender equality — and we can use it to accelerate change.

The UK reporting procedures already provide a treasure trove of information, and this year France and Ireland will create new databases as they introduce their own laws.

Around the world women are paid less than men and disproportionately shut out of good jobs

Equileap has created an extensive database on gender equality in the workplace. It was set up by Diana van Maasdijk and myself three years ago because we wanted to change the fact that around the world women are paid less than men and disproportionately shut out of good jobs. We recognised this as an important driver of poverty and a waste of human capital.

We created the Equileap Gender Scorecard — inspired by the Women’s Empowerment Principles of the United Nations. The Scorecard has 19 data clusters and measures gender equality at every level in a company from the boardroom to the supply chain, including gender pay gaps, paid family leave, flexible work and anti-harassment policies.

Every year, we measure over 3,000 companies in 23 developed countries and rank them in the Equileap Gender Equality Global Report and Ranking.

Our data is licensed by the financial industry to support a new generation of gender lens investing products. Currently more than US$2.4 billion is invested in this way, over a quarter of it powered by Equileap data. It also hands us all new ways to pursue change.

Procurement: This is a powerful lever to accelerate gender equality, one no organisation or government, that we know of, has yet developed: the field is wide open. How fast would companies change if they were asked for evidence of gender pay parity as a condition to bid for a contract?

At present, Equileap can only find two companies, General Motors in the US and StarHub in Singapore, that meet the test of no overall gender pay gap and equal pay for equal work at every level of the company. How much difference would it make for women if 50% of global companies could do this? Even asking the question of your supplier of ink cartridges or paper cups produces change.

Pensions: How is your pension invested? Most people don’t know, but there is a moral case and a business case to support investing in funds that screen companies on gender equality. Pension funds are enormously powerful and get heard in the financial industry.

Gender lens investments are predicted to be one of the fastest growing asset classes of the next few years, driven in part by pension funds, but that process needs to be kick started by pension holders: asking questions about how gender is taken into account in your pension sends a message that investors are interested and that there’s demand for it. The more voices, the better.

Private savings: Are you saving with companies that are good, bad or merely indifferent to gender equality, and how are they investing your money? If you hold an account with the British bank HSBC, it has just revealed an increased gender pay gap of over 60%, compared to lower gaps in other banks.

You have the power, as a customer, to track how your bank performs and move your account if there’s no progress towards balance. Make gender one of your criteria for investing your savings: you can invest as little as $5 in funds that screen for gender equality — they make a difference and a return.

Changing jobs:  Who do you want to work for, a gender balanced organisation that pays men and women equally, and gives them a fair chance of promotion, or one that doesn’t? Ask the questions at interviews and review the data when making decisions. Analyse the gender balance of your own team — remembering that this isn’t just a nice to have, it’s a critical edge that produces better results. — Jo Andrews

(Picture credit: Unsplash)


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