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Gender parity shouldn’t take 81 years

Gender parity shouldn’t take 81 years

What will the world look like in 2096? It is one of those questions that one can only guess the answer. Will flying cars be the norm? Will space travel to Mars be the holiday destination of choice for the uber-wealthy? Will we view Google glasses, Apple watches, the iPhone 6 as highly sought after antiques? Perhaps Africa will have overtaken China as the most powerful economic region in the world? The environment will surely have changed. However, arguably one of the most significant milestones is that 2096, just four years before the start of a new century, could be the point at which we achieve equality of the sexes for the first time.

This sobering prediction was made in January at the World Economic Forum by Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, executive director, UN Women at the launch of the He for She UN Women campaign, encouraging men to support women’s rights. She said: “A girl born during Davos 2015 will be 81 years old before she has gender parity.”

A girl born during Davos 2015 will be 81 years old before she has gender parity

Hopefully Mlabo-Ngcuka’s prediction turns out to be widely off the mark and gender equality is achieved much sooner. But there needs to be action and purpose rather than just words for progress to be made. This is why the theme for International Women’s Day “Make it Happen” resonated so much.

The achievement of gender equality, and equality across ethnicity, sexual orientation and socio-economic background for that matter, should not be the sole preserve of campaign groups but a cause taken up by wide range of groups in society, including government and business.

Increasing the number of people who participate in an economy makes that economy more productive. Levelling the playing field for people of different gender, background and ethnicity will increase the amount an economy can produce. Clearly, more people working would also help pensions saving rates and government tax receipts. Yet the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) recently found gender employment gaps are 10% or higher in 15 of the G20 countries. We should do more than close the gap. Women have tended to work in less productive jobs than men: sectors like health care and training, with a bias to clerical roles and working shorter hours. Conscious and unconscious biases need to overcome allowing equal access to jobs and promotion. Simply put, employing more and better people will be good for the overall economy.

From a business perspective, there has been much research published that supports the case that mixed teams make better decisions. Mixed teams are able to look at issues from different perspectives and, as a result, formulate better solutions. If the culture within a business is such that it ignores or demeans the contribution of one half of the population it is unlikely to produce the right decisions to grow and succeed. Diversity in all its forms should be seen as a competitive advantage rather than a politically correct box ticking exercise.

But raising awareness is one thing making it happen is another. Politically incorrect behaviour should not merely be frowned upon and then forgotten instead it should be regarded as a serious breach. There needs to be an understanding that the cost to business is considerable and an appropriate response is required. The tone needs to be set by senior management and embraced throughout organisations. The benefits of diversity need to be actively communicated within businesses. Behaviour by individuals which hampers the creation of a diverse workforce should be regarded as an attempt to undermine the business' competitive advantage. It should be treated as seriously as any other such attempt would be: through lower financial reward and slower progression.

There is much to be done, but let’s “make it happen” decades, rather than years, before the turn of the next century.

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