Last week I was asked to join a panel discussion on BBC Scotland Radio to answer the question have we finally achieved gender equality in the UK?
With a soon to be second female Prime Minister, a female First Minister in Scotland and Northern Ireland, we were asked to share our views on the second wave of Girl Power in the UK.
Of course it is excellent that women play such a prominent role in UK politics and such high profile individuals can only continue to champion the cause to encourage more women to enter the political field. However, in my view we will only be able to say we have achieved equality at all levels in business and society when first becomes meaningless.
How often do we refer to the First Female?
The biggest of all is the potential this year of the First Female President of the United States. We have the first female head of the IMF, the first female Chancellor of Germany, the first female First Minister of Scotland, the first female Chair of the US Federal Reserve Bank.
And we also have a constant stream of first female CEOs in companies and organisations throughout the world.
That’s a lot of First Females.
Such high profile appointments can only be good to show girls and women what can be achieved but when we scratch beneath the surface and the headlines we still have a significant journey ahead of us before we can truly say we have achieved equality.
The latest Women on Boards performance in the UK announced last week demonstrated a snail pace effort to improving the balance. Only 25% of recent FTSE 100 Board appointments have gone to women – the lowest rate since 2011. If we look at the FTSE 350 total only 7% of board directors are women.
In Scotland we continue to have a pay gap between men and women currently standing at 17.5% – this rises to 40% in some sectors.
Women across the UK are more likely to be in low-paid, part time roles as opposed to men.
Women are more likely to face challenges with lower pension provisions than men as they reach older age.
We all know that equality matters and that it is the right thing to do.
What can often be understated though is the significant economic benefits that gender equality would deliver.
McKinsey has estimated that $12 trillion could be added to global GDP by 2025 by advancing gender equality.
If we do not harness the potential of over half of the world’s population the global economy will suffer.
Unleashing the potential of women to set up their own businesses in Scotland could lead to a 5% increase in Scottish GDP if women were to create their own businesses at the same rate as men. When Scotland’s current growth rate is hovering around 1.7% this makes for a tantalising opportunity to stimulate a significant boost to our economy.
With companies continuing to face a war on attracting, keeping the best talent and maintaining competitive advantage we know that diverse teams can demonstrate higher performance levels and importantly increase bottom line profitability.
So we have the attention grabbing headlines on women running the world and a message to the boys in the UK that the political norm has changed. The reality, once the headlines and the articles that follow have disappeared into yesterday’s news, is that we still have a long way to go.
Unless we change our approach now we will have to wait another 117 years before we achieve pay equality globally according to EY. I really don’t want to wait that long and what kind of message does this signal to the next generation of young women leaving school into work or going into further education.
So we need to shift the conversation from nice to do to have to do. That means mainstreaming gender equality as a business issue and creating frameworks and measurements to set baseline performance and track progress.
What gets measured gets done.
It is through a structured, analytical approach that we will see progress and this begins in the companies employing women across the UK.
At GenAnalytics we are confident that this approach will work and that we can track the talent pipeline, support organisations to close any gender pay gaps and importantly support women to achieve their ambitions – whatever their background.
This will require a massive effort across industry and with individuals stepping up to the plate to take responsibility.
Only then will we begin to reach a point in time when we no longer talk about firsts.