• News
  • Columns
  • Interviews
  • BW Communities
  • Events
  • BW TV
  • Subscribe to Print
BW Businessworld

Women Fail To Make Headway Career-wise

Photo Credit :

Despite gender diversity becoming an important tool for most organisations over the last two decades, women have failed to make much headway in their careers, says a new global research by Mercer, a leading consultant in talent, health, retirement and investments.

Saying when women thrive, businesses also thrive, the study warned that if the current approach continued unchanged, only one-third of executive positions will be held by women over the next 10 years. Even in the mature economies of the US and Canada, just one-fourth of women will hold executive positions by 2024, whereas female representation in developing countries is expected to grow more rapidly.

The human capital report, released by the world Economic Forum with Mercer in 2013, found that only 60-70 per cent of the elegible female population participates in the global workforce - compared with male participation in the high 80s. This trend is true in all geographies, developed  and developing, and across all age groups.

While the diversity efforts of the past several decades have resulted in some improvements in women's participation rates and career trajectories, our research shows that we're still decades away from true gender equality - if we keep doing what we're doing," said Pat Milligan, President of Mercer's North America Region. "It's time to act differently to realise the benefit of their full participation and address the unique needs of female employees."

"We were pleased to collaborate with Mercer on this ground-breaking research that assesses the actual patterns of gender representation to uncover what really drives gender diversity in organisations," said Aniela Unguresan, Co-founder of EDGE Certified Foundation that has established the only global business certification in workplace gender equality. "It is clear that incremental change does not significantly move the needle. Disruptive change does."

According to Mercer's research, which broadly assesses the impact of organisational practices and policies on the representation and advancement of women in the workforce, organizations are still far from achieving gender equality. Despite making up 41 per cent of the workforce globally, women's highest representation among all career levels is in support staff roles. Women make up 40 per cent of the workforce at the professional level and 36 per cent at the managerial level, but only 26 per cent of senior managers and 19 per cent of executives.

"Our research shows employers that are focused on holistic solutions to build diversity are most successful - and organisations applying predictive analytics to link specific programs and talent strategies to the advancement, engagement, and retention of women are most effective," said Brian Levine, Innovation Leader for Mercer's North America Workforce Strategy & Analytics consulting business.

Key Drivers of Gender Diversity
A key finding of Mercer's research shows that the active involvement of senior leaders in gender diversity leads to greater, accelerated representation of women in executive roles more so than accountability alone. Yet, just more than half (56%) of organisations indicate that their senior executives are actively involved in diversity and inclusion programs.

Furthermore, a dedicated team responsible for pay equity leads to more women in senior roles while common policies - those intended to ensure equity through flexible work schedules and leave programs - are, in the absence of management, associated with slower improvement in the number of women in leadership positions.

Mercer's research also shows that non-traditional solutions to gender diversity positively impact an organisation's long-term ability to engage and retain female talent. For instance, more diverse retirement programs, including monitoring savings by gender, providing investment training customized to different gender realities, and gender-specific health education campaigns correlate with greater representation of women at senior levels. Yet, fewer than 15% of organizations monitor savings and offer retirement programs customized to different gender behaviors.

"Clearly, companies can do better in addressing and progressing gender equality in the workplace and leveraging the capabilities of a diverse workforce," said Ms. Milligan. "Given the size of the untapped female workforce, greater participation of women has major implications for the economic and social development of communities and nations as well as business outcomes and performance."

Priorities Vary By Region
With women making up just 41 per cent of the workforce globally, with higher representation in the US and Canada (48 per cent) and significantly lower in Europe/Oceania and Latin America (37 per cent and 33 per cent, respectively), organisations worldwide are far from achieving gender equality.   

In terms of hiring, women in the US and Canada lag behind their male counterparts at every career level except the professional and executive levels, while women in Europe/Oceania lag behind in all but the manager level. Organizations in Latin America are the most aggressive in hiring women at entry-levels, but female hires begin to lag behind male hires above the manager level.

While current efforts to move more women into top roles over the next decade will impact representation of women in the future, it will vary greatly by region. In US and Canada, the number of women at the highest ranks is on track to remain essentially flat over the next 10 years, with 26% of executive roles held by women in 2024 compared to 24 per cent today. However, organisations in Europe/Oceania could make substantial gains in gender equality at the top of the house over the next 10 years as organizations in this region are expected to increase the number of women in executive roles from 18 per cent to 47 per cent. Latin American organisations could also show significant growth in female representation at the executive level over the next decade with growth expected to advance from 12% today to 39% by 2024.


Tags assigned to this article:
corporate women mercer study gender inequality