Is workplace equality still a myth?



This month is the perfect occasion to tackle the issue of inequality between men and women in the workplace. As everyone knows, the 8th of March was International Women’s Day and, along with this, comes the problem of gender discrimination. So where are we now? What progress has been made so far? How much is there still to do?

 

International Women’s Day divides the public opinion and sustains the debate. Some see this initiative as an opportunity to highlight the progresses we’ve made so far while others see it as more proof that women are still not seen and treated the same as men. Now, from our point of view, this might not be the answer to the problem but it is an annual reminder that the topic is still on the agenda and it is the opportunity to discuss what to do next.

Many positive changes have occurred in recent years. Quotas for women in the workplace have been enforced in several European countries such as Italy, the Netherlands or France to name a few. The European Union is now discussing the possibility to enforce mandatory quotas for all member states. During the last decade, the female employment rate rose to 62.5% according a Eurobarometer survey conducted by the European Commission and published in 2010.

However, this evolution is little compared to the huge gap we have to close. According to the European Commission, inequality in pay between men and women remains high in Europe and women still earn on average 17.5% less gross hourly than men in the European Union. Moreover, women represent only one in ten board members of the largest publicly listed companies in the EU and 3% among the presidents of the board. The representation of women in the Fortune 500 boards is increasing very slowly with a 4% increase between 2001 and 2011. Female managers often have to fight to be recognized for their true worth and get the career opportunities they deserve. Indeed, a survey carried out by a leading UK management organisation finds 73% of them believe barriers to advancement remain, compared with only 38% of men.

Beside the difficulties women encounter in the workplace, the gender gap is also costing companies profits and the nation a significant amount in economic growth. A recent research from London Business School suggests that productivity levels go up when men and women work together in tandem, in part because gender parity counters the idea of group think, or the frequency of like-minded groups to defend ideas that may be ill conceived.

We are therefore yet far from reaching the objective of equality in the workplace. Companies need to implement and strengthen a real HR strategy to reduce the inequalities quicker and give women the career they deserve. Everyone would gain something! The employers would increase the productivity, the teams would be more efficient and the women would finally get the positions they want.

 

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