Overcoming Gender Inequality

By Frank-Jürgen Richter

March 3, 2023

When we speak of inequality, the concept usually only refers to inequality between the rich and the poor, or the haves and the have nots. Gender inequality has—until recently—not been talked about as much, but it is a problem that is inhibiting socio-economic development globally.

There is a wide gender gap in the global labor force participation rate, and that gap is hindering economic growth. Women’s participation in the labor force is just under 47%, while for men it is 72%. This gap further widens to 50 percentage points in countries such as India and Pakistan. 

In many countries around the world, girls from a certain age are restricted from participating in sports, education and other fields, bounded by age-old traditions and cultures. Although many countries have brought about restrictions and initiatives around women empowerment and girls education, the reality is often different as centuries-old habits and ways of livings are hard to change through the simple passing of law.

In contrast, however, laws that further entrench gender inequality and exacerbate the issue, are easier to implement. This unfortunate truth is playing out in Afghanistan since the Taliban has returned to power. Women and young girls in the country are being prevented from even receiving an education, let alone partake in economic activities. This greatly increases gender inequalities and prevents women from realising their full potential. The lack of an education and the lack of any economic opportunities in fact greatly increases the likelihood of women being forced to live in poverty.

Parity in the Workplace

While there are societal and cultural barriers to gender parity in many societies, another critical challenge is that of disparities in the workplace. This is a global phenomenon, irrespective of a country’s level of economic development.

Women are paid less than men for the same work, they find it more difficult to rise to senior leadership positions, and unlike men, they’re faced with the burden of managing their homes alongside fulfilling their responsibilities at work.

The paucity of women in senior leadership positions is a challenge that many companies say they are looking to address, but the needle has moved far too slowly so far. Take the case of Australia, where women only make up about 19.4% of CEOs, across all industries in the country’s workforce. And only 18% of board positions at Australian companies are filled by women. The stats are not much better in other countries.

In recent years, there has been much talk about instituting policies that support women—and particularly young mothers—in the workplace. However, the reality is that women still often have to make compromises with their careers given the onus of managing a home, playing caregiver and bringing up a child still largely rests with women. In many instances, companies do not have policies that support women in these respects. The US trails in this respect, and is the only wealthy country with no mandated paid maternity leave.

Working women also need to deal with the expectation of playing a caregiver’s role. On an average women spend the most time of their lives in either doing household work or taking care of children. A report by UN Women shows that women’s domestic workloads have increased significantly amid the pandemic, leading to many quitting their jobs.

A Level Playing Field

Even as countries and businesses emerge slowly from the pandemic, a collective approach, involving the government and businesses will be required to address gender disparities. There first needs to be an acknowledgement of the socio-economic value lost as a result of women not being bale to realize their full potential.

To reduce gender disparities, governments must invest in public healthcare, childcare and eldercare. This will reduce the caregiving burden on women and allow them to focus more on their jobs. On their part, employers must show more flexibility in the form of remote work, working hour flexibility so that women can find the right balance between their personal lives and professional careers.

Research has shown that companies with a larger share of women in senior leadership positions or on company boards tend to better than their peers across various metrics of performance—such as profitability. Research also shows that greater diversity (or less disparity in this case) supports innovation and creativity as well. Companies must understand that greater gender parity is not just a moral and/ or ethical consideration any longer, but also an economic and financial one. They must develop leadership pathway and courses for women, and put in place equal pay policies and institute greater flexibility to close the gender gap at work.

Given the scale of challenges the world is faced with, we need to do all we can to improve our chances of success. Closing the gender gap helps us do just that.

Photo caption: Closing the gender gap can help improve socio-economic outcomes..