We Need to Talk About Gender Equality, Now
Women make up half of Asia’s population and contribute to 36 per cent of GDP. But only 12 per cent of them are on companies’ boards and a mere three per cent make it to the chief executive positions. If gender equality is improved in not just Asia but across the world, it can bolster global GDP by 31 per cent, or $28 trillion, by 2025, which is the size of the US and China GDP combined.
In essence, the above findings by a Bank of America-Merrill Lynch report reiterate the importance of having gender diversity at the workplace and how it can help grow the world. What’s worrying though, reports from the Global Gender Gap Index claim it will take 217 years to achieve gender balance at the current rate of change.
We asked business leaders in the Asia Pacific region to suggest ways to improve gender equality at the workplace. Here’s what they had to say.
Mindset Takes the Cake
George McEncroe, award-winning comedian, radio presenter and founder- CEO of all-female rideshare company Shebah, says, “Gender equality will create a better world. It’s that simple. If democracy is the fairest way to run a country, we must have the voices of women heard. To speak out fearlessly takes more courage than it should have to. If we want the best people doing the best job for our communities, 50 per cent can’t be afraid of the dark and be silenced by policies that either directly or indirectly disadvantage women.”
With this year’s International Women Day theme being #BalanceForBetter, Cat Prestipino, chief marketing officer of Australia’s first all-in-one HR, payroll and benefits platform for employers and employees Employment Hero, says one of the best ways to pragmatically push for progress is to offer flexible working conditions for everyone, whenever it’s possible. “By removing the stigma around flexible working conditions, we remove the stigma of childrearing from the workplace for both men and women, parents and non-parents,” she says. “The upside will be more productive and more balanced employees all round.”
Michelle Gallaher, managing director of The Social Science, an organization Down Under that works to transform science and technology executives and organizations from novices to seasoned travellers in the social media world, says the hashtag “#BalanceForBetter” says it all. “It says ‘better’ not ‘perfect’,” she says, explaining it’s not unreasonable to feel despondent and overwhelmed about achieving gender balance because the gap we need to navigate is so wide.
Gallaher believes the greatest win can be achieved at home, particularly with primary school children and helping them to recognize the bias against girls and women within their world of school, media and among friends and family. “My teenagers are very aware of the gender bias as for years we as parents have been pointing it out to them. When you give intelligent people quality data that is validated and specific they will typically make good decisions,” says Gallaher.
Variety is Always Better
Just hiring women is not the answer. The talent has to be right as well.
“I think pragmatic is the key word here. While I would love to see a 50/50 split in the workplace and boardroom, this also needs to be balanced with putting the right person in the right role. There's no benefit gained by putting a woman into a role simply to up your gender quota-that kind of approach only ever backfires,” says Amy Walker, co-founder and head of growth at Melbourne-headquartered marketing software platform Cooperate.
She offers two ways in which businesses can balance this pragmatically. Firstly, make use of OKRs, or Objectives and Key Results. One of the biggest challenges for organizations is promotion, and too often men and women will differ in how they put themselves forward in these kinds of scenarios. If an organization has solid OKRs in place based on the jobs that role needs to achieve, they have an assessment tool that they can rely on internally to shortlist promotion prospects based on real-time performance and ability, rather than the more traditional “show pony” approach. “This approach can help even the playing field, whether it's introverted women against assertive men (the common stereotype), or introverted men against assertive women, which can be just as impactful,” says Walker.
Secondly, a company needs to gender balance its decision groups. “While board seats and management roles can take time to reach a gender balance, ensuring the groups that outline the requirements for these kinds of roles and the hiring of key persons are equal, will help to bring balance. If you have a 50/50 decision group that is in agreement on a new hire then that will in itself bring balance. Every business is different and this means their gender balance needs are different too,” she explains.