There is a simple equation: businesses that are gender diverse perform better. This has been proven by the recent McKinsey report that states that the most gender diverse quarter of businesses are 20% more likely to have above average financial performance than their non-diverse counterparts. If the business case is made, why is gender imbalance still widely accepted?
Gender equality is a current and important debate. International Women’s Day and its theme of #BalanceforBetter is the right time to call forfemale health to be better represented at work in order to achieve real gender balance.
Across the UK over half of the population is female, but in 2018 there were still more CEOs within top UK companies called ‘Dave’ than there were the number of female CEOs combined. I find it interesting that men and women have parity in earnings at the start of their careers but after the first child is born, the gap widens and women are paid 44% less than men. These are the underlying facts that often don’t make the headlines but illustrates there is clearly much more to do.
A huge contributer to this is that there is still poor recognition of female-specific health, such as periods, fertility and menopause, which can significantly impact working lives and subsequently business performance. Women who suffer from heavy periods take over 5.5 million days off each year, with 58% saying they feel unable to carry out their daily routine. Meanwhile, while 3.5 million women aged over 50 are currently in employment in the UK, it’s estimated that around 10% of those stop working altogether because of their severe menopausal symptoms.
It is unavoidable that women's physiology has a bearing on their roles but not supporting women is breaking talent pipelines, stopping women reaching their potential and ultimately affecting businesses financial performance. Nowhere is this more true than for women having children and working mothers.
To support women, we need to do more than having an adequate maternity policy. It means being flexible with working hours; educating managers; and creating working groups to support those returning to work after pregnancy or illness. Access to good healthcare is also important, as is freedom to attend appointments. Most importantly of all we must normalise the conversation. No more euphemisms for periods or menopause. It’s about breaking down the taboo and the shame that surrounds women’s health.
There remains a huge gap when it comes to supporting female health in the workplace. This needs to be a fundamental strategy not an initiative. It will ensure a continuation of your talent pipeline, increased productivity and subsequently better business performance. There are some green shoots with some companies starting to take action. In recent years we’ve seen the likes of IBM and Deloitte champion flexible working and support for parents; BT and M&S improve their gender balance by supporting female talent; and many others signing up to initiatives, while Lord Davies set the target to ensure at least 25% of FTSE 100 Board positions were filled by women. That said, if women make up more than 50% of the population, shouldn’t we be at least half of the board? In some instances, this still feels like a tick box exercise?
Before we can make real progress, we need to acknowledge that double standards, sexism and gender bias still exist, and we shouldn’t be satisfied with progress to date. To give a personal example, I was asked after the birth of my child how I would manage my child care if I was to take on an international role. This is unacceptable and illustrative that we still have a long way to go. Those organisations that do support women will be the beneficiaries of the financial rewards that comes hand in hand with being champions of diversity.
It’s clearly time to act. It’s not asking for special treatment – it’s asking you to consider how we remove the barriers that prevent women from competing on a level playing field, enabling them to reach their full potential. The cost if we don’t? Women’s productivity will inevitably continue to be affected but, worse than that, they will leave the workforce completely and businesses will be left behind in more ways than one.
Notes to editor