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Workforce gender imbalance shows companies must do better
07/03/2021
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Gender Gap

More than eight in 10 of the world’s largest companies do not publish information on the differences between the salaries of male and female employees, a new report has found.

Out of 3,702 companies based in 23 countries surveyed, women’s workplace equality organisation Equileap found that only 15 employers have closed their gender pay gap in the past year.

In addition, only 10 companies achieved gender balance at all levels of their business. This is despite women making up 37% of the global workforce, as well as 17% of executives, 24% of senior management, and 25% of boards worldwide.

“With only 10 companies globally achieving gender balance at all levels, we must do better. Our data actually shows that strong legislation leads to better gender equality at a national level,” said Equileap CEO Diana van Maasdijk, citing, as an example, Spain, which passed new laws to combat gender discrimination in the workplace in March 2019.

Despite temporarily scrapping the obligation for larger companies to disclose their gender pay gap, due to mounting pressures on businesses during the covid-19 pandemic, the UK is among the top countries for gender equality alongside France, Spain, and Sweden.

France boasts an average of 44% women at boardroom level, as well as achieving 30% female leadership in senior management.

Among the worst-performing countries were the United States, Japan, and Switzerland.

A minority of 8% of US companies have gender-balanced boards, and only 7% of US businesses have gender balance at the executive level. More than nine in 10 companies do not publish their gender pay gap data.

On average, Japanese company boards contain just 10% of women members, 3% of women at the executive level, 8% in senior management, and 26% in the workforce. Only 2% of companies report their gender pay gap.

Meanwhile, despite women in Switzerland making up 39% of the country’s workforce, only 22% are in senior management, 10% executive, and 25% boardroom positions.

“Legislation raises the bar for companies, in terms of what they disclose and what action they take,” said van Maasdijk.

There is no doubt that covid-19 has had a massive impact on women in the workplace throughout the world. In fact, research finds that many women are considering leaving work altogether

The report also found that despite the relative success of the MeToo movement in highlighting inappropriate workplace behaviour, just over half of large corporates still do not have an anti-sexual harassment policy.

The findings are a slight improvement on 2019’s results, when 58% of companies did not publish a policy. Employers in Spain, France, Italy, and Canada were found to have done the most to make workplaces safer, while countries across Asia-Pacific fared poorly.

Equileap was particularly concerned by reports of sexual harassment or gender discrimination at 14 companies; 12 in the US, while the other two are based in Switzerland and the UK, respectively.

Surprisingly, in the Covid-19 era, only 19% of companies globally offer a flexible working policy in terms of hours and locations.

Germany stands out for having the highest percentage of companies publishing policies for flexible work hours (87%) and locations (65%).

“There is no doubt that covid-19 has had a massive impact on women in the workplace throughout the world. In fact, research finds that many women are considering leaving work altogether,” said van Maasdijk, citing research that one in four women are considering leaving the workforce or rolling back on their careers.

Corporate parental leave was another key factor considered by the report. Only 12 companies globally offer 26 weeks of company-sponsored paid leave to both parents. Standard Life Aberdeen is seen as the standout leader, offering nine months of fully paid leave to all parents.

The top five companies for gender equality overall were found to be Norwegian bank DNB, Australian property group Mirvac, British communications company WPP, French cosmetics giant L’Oréal, and American car manufacturer General Motors.

With 25 companies in the top 100 best-performing companies, the utilities sector was found to be the standout industry in Equileap’s report, followed by consumer staples and communication services.

Traditionally a sector with poor gender balance, technology companies continue to perform below average when compared to other industries. On average, only 20% of women have senior management roles across the sector and just 9% of companies publish their pay gap data.

Companies in the financial services sector have the highest average score for offering flexible work arrangements to employees; 48% offer flexible hours, 34% offer flexible locations, and 30% offer both. However, only 21% of employers in the sector publish pay gap information and just 40% publish an anti-sexual harassment policy. On average, 18% of executives are women.

Referring to the overall findings as “not all doom and gloom”, van Maasdijk said: “We see an increased interest from investors in social issues, including higher female representation at all levels of a company and closing the gender pay gap.”

She added: “As to the uncertain economic future, my bet is that companies with a strong focus on empathy and gender equality will be the ones to survive and thrive.”