Status of women at work an ‘economic and social travesty’ says report

"We are definitely going to go on a major campaign on equal pay."
If organizations maintain the current rate of progress when it comes to gender equity, female representation will reach only 40 per cent globally in the professional and managerial ranks by 2025. Credit/Getty Images

Women are moving up in the workplace but not nearly as much as they should be, a global study released Wednesday has found.

“We’re basically at a flat trajectory,” said Brian Levine of Mercer, the worldwide consulting firm behind the second-annual ‘When Women Thrive report.

It examined nearly 600 organizations which represent 3.2 million employees in 42 countries, making it the largest study of its kind. Participating Canadian organizations spanned the energy, finance and banking sectors, as well as post secondary institutions.

Levine stressed gender diversity is an issue all organizations need to take more seriously.

“Women have unique skills, we see this in our research,” he said.

“Women excel at adaptability, they excel at people management and they excel at emotional intelligence. These are skills that we need to innovate and drive our organizations to future success.”

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READ MORE: Women 118 years away from closing the gender gap: World Economic Forum 

Key findings of the report:

  • Only 60 to 70 per cent of the employable female population is in the workforce, versus male participation rates in excess of 80 per cent.
  • Women make up only 35 per cent of the average company’s workforce at the professional level and above.
  • Female representation declines as career level rises. Globally, women make up 33 per cent of managers, 26 per cent of senior managers, and only 20 per cent of executives.
  • Current female hiring, promotion and retention are insufficient to create gender equality over the next decade.

“The traditional methods of advancing women aren’t moving the needle, and under-representation of women around the world has become an economic and social travesty,” said Pat Milligan, who helped spearhead the report.

“In 10 years, organizations won’t even be close to gender equality in most regions of the world. If CEOs want to drive their growth tomorrow through diversity, they need to take action today.”

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“This is a call-to-action,” she added. “Every organization has a choice to stay with the status-quo or drive their growth, communities and economies through the power of women.”

Who’s doing it right?

Latin America is the only region on track to achieve near gender parity at the professional level and above by 2025.

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Women there currently account for 17 per cent of executives, but that number is expected to grow to 44 percent by 2025 based on current hiring, promotion and retention rates.

Promotion rates for women in Latin America are especially impressive: they are twice as likely to be promoted from the senior manager level.

The biggest challenge the region will face is sustaining the momentum it  has reached over the past two years.

Who’s lagging behind?

The Middle East and Africa were not represented in the study, which Mercer hopes to change in the future.

Of the regions covered, Asia is projected to have the lowest representation of women in the workforce by 2025 (only 28 per cent).

Australia and New Zealand aren’t much better. Only a third of top jobs in 2025 are expected to be held by women.

How’s North America doing?

The U.S. and Canada lead on remuneration, with 40 per cent of organizations offering formal pay equity remediation processes, compared to 34 per cent globally.

READ MORE: Rwanda ranks higher in gender equality than Canada: report

The percentage of females in professional and more senior roles in North America is now at 39 per cent. That’s expected to increase only one per cent in the next decade.

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“In order to get to a point of improvement we need to remove inequities,” Levine said.  “[With] equitable rates of hiring, promotion and retention, we would go from 40 to 49 per cent in 10 years.”

The issue was one of the top topics at last week’s World Economic Forum in Davos.

WATCH: Trudeau discusses gender equality on final day of World Economic Forum

Trudeau discusses gender equality on final day of World Economic Forum
Trudeau discusses gender equality on final day of World Economic Forum

What can organizations do?

One of the suggestions the report has for improving women’s roles in the workplace is crafting better company policies.

That can include creating stronger support programs (like proper training) for women coming back from maternity leave.

Cultural change is also important, as is having a diligent pay equity process that relies on statistical analysis and includes formal remediation protocols.

“It’s not enough to create a band-aid program,” said Levine.

You can see more highlights from the report in the video below:

WWT Loop from Mercer Insights on Vimeo.