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Closing the gender gap: When she rises, we all rise

by Greg Langley

How companies can immediately tackle inequality in the workplace? A study by Accenture shows ways to close the gender gap

Most women in Europe are working for free today and will be until the end of the year. The reason? The gender pay gap.

The European Commission found last year that women earn 16.3% less than their male counterparts, which means women effectively work free two months every year.

“Inequalities have been narrowing in recent decades,” says Barbara Harvey of Accenture. “But progress toward a more equal workforce is frustratingly slow and the differences remain gaping, not least in terms of career advancement.”

Harvey, research managing director at Accenture, the strategy and consultancy firm, says, “Three quarters of today’s fastest growing companies don’t have a woman in senior leadership. It’s extraordinary!”

Referring to Getting to Equal 2018, an Accenture report released earlier this year, Harvey says there are 40 workplace factors that influence advancement. The report identified 14 that matter most in creating a culture of equality and closing the gender pay gap.

Some are obvious, such as having an agreed diversity target and being willing to share it externally, as well as having an active women’s network. Others, such as not asking employees to conform to a dress or appearance code, are less so.

“When a women is not judged by the way she looks, when she has flexible hours to deal with family commitments, if a woman’s boundaries are respected, then she is more likely to rise,” explains Harvey.

Another critical factor is encouraging equal parental leave. The research suggests that implementing maternity leave alone is likely to hold women back from career progression, but when parental leave for men and women is encouraged, the negative impact on women is canceled out.

“Additional responsibilities at home and discrimination have implications all along women’s career paths and it starts right out of school or university,” says Harvey. “By the time they are 30, men already earn 6% more and are 22% more likely to have reached senior management positions.”

Closing the gap means more than open offices

Angelica V. Marte, chief executive of mim_more is more, a consulting and leadership coaching firm based in Austria, says the intriguing aspect of the report is the data it provides on how to create places where both women and men love working.

“The research indicates that if companies focus on the 14 cultural drivers out of 40 workplace factors, women not only advance, but men thrive too,” she notes.

Marte, a researcher and university lecturer, says the report provides evidence that a gender-balanced workplace is better for all. The data indicates that in places of such workplace culture, 95% of employees are satisfied with their career progression, 93% aspire to get promoted and 93% aspire to become senior leaders in their organizations.

“Based on this research, change for gender-balance on all leadership levels can be initiated on solid empirical ground. It also outlines how C-suite decisions can profoundly decide for more agile and innovative change and investments to create gender-balance workplaces.”

The Accenture research is based on a survey of 22,000 working men and women in 34 countries. Harvey says the factors are “incredibly consistent” in the way they affect women in all sectors and in most countries, although the data indicates there are more challenges in addressing women’s advancement in the Middle East and Japan where the cultural norms are different.

“For me, the fact there are companies where women are thriving today shows that getting to equal is something that really is achievable,” says Harvey. “Culture is set from the top, so if women are to advance, gender equality must be a strategic priority for corporate managers.”

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