Following International Women’s Day and the resulting discussions over gender equality, the lack of workplace diversity remains a persistent issue. Women are underrepresented in many fields, and pay gaps are prevalent. The World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Global Gender Gap Report 2020 estimated that, at the current rate of progress, it will take another 100 years to achieve gender equality across four key dimensions; economic participation, educational attainment, health, and political empowerment.

As companies seek to address environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues, improving workplace gender equality should be a key priority, particularly as we recover from Covid-19.

Women have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. According to McKinsey, women make up 39% of global employment but accounted for 54% of overall job losses by May 2020.

Examining the gender wage gap

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) measures the disparity in pay as the difference between median earnings of men and women relative to the median earnings of men. By this measure, the UK has a gender wage gap of 16.4%, and the US a gap of 18.2%.

While many argue that these metrics fail to account for job type, skill level, and industry, measuring workplace gender disparity is more complex than a simple comparison of wages across these three factors. Comparing male and female employees at the same seniority level overlooks gender bias in promotions. Similarly, a comparison of employees working in the same industry would do little to reflect women’s occupational segregation into industries that, on average, are lower paid than male-dominated ones.

The tech sector is one example. The aforementioned WEF report analyzed LinkedIn data and found that women represented 26% of employees in data and AI roles, 12% of employees working in cloud computing, and 12% of automation engineers.

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Conversely, female employment in sales and marketing positions is much higher. According to data from the UK’s Office for National Statistics, the mean annual salary for science, engineering, and technology professionals was around £31,000 in 2020, compared to £16,000 for sales and customer service occupations.

Companies need to act

While improvements in access to education have helped diversify women’s skillsets, gender stereotypes and cultural norms still dictate what women choose to study at degree level and later pursue as a career. Companies can focus their ESG efforts on tackling these issues.

Visible and equal representation of women at senior and board level helps demonstrate both company and sector commitment to equal opportunities and equal compensation, particularly in industries with a small female workforce. Employing more women in leadership positions has a trickle-down effect on other women in the workforce and can help remove negative stereotypes surrounding female capabilities in certain careers. Flexible working and family-care policies will help broaden the pool of female employees wishing to take on more workplace responsibility.

Diversity laws have somewhat improved gender equality in the workplace. The EU leads the way, with six member states implementing binding quotas for gender board diversity. Other EU countries, and the UK, have introduced softer quotas. According to S&P Global, countries with imposed quotas for female board employment have performed better regarding gender diversity. Nonetheless, most quotas are still capped at 40%.

While female representation in management positions has improved globally over the last five years, the percentage of women on boards remains far lower than other employment levels. Analysis by S&P Global finds that the communication services sector has the highest percentage of women at board level, representing a mere 24% of all board employees.

Industries such as utilities, IT, and energy are among the market sectors with the lowest proportion of women in board positions, at around 20%. Bridging this sector gap and improving female board employment is vital to changing occupational segregation.