The UK gender gap is widening. Why you should embrace diversity

Lucy Hattersley

Thursday 11 December 2014

The gender gap continues to widen in the UK, but is it affecting UK businesses? What impact does gender diversity really have, and what steps can C-Suite executives take to improve their business?

Between 2013 and 2014, the gender gap in the UK has dramatically widened, causing it to drop to 26th place for global gender equality according to a report by the World Economic Forum (WEF).

Using data from 142 countries, the Global Gender Gap Report 2014 has now ranked the UK below countries you might not typically associate with gender equality, including Nicaragua (6th), Rwanda (7th) and the Philippines (9th). Is this something CEOs in the UK need to worry about?

Gender equality is considered an indication of good health for both large organisations and countries as a whole. “Some of the most compelling findings regarding the benefits of gender equality are emerging from companies,” writes Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum. “For example, companies that include more women at the top levels of leadership tend to outperform those that don’t.”

Drilling down into the data from the Global Gender Gap Report reveals that women in the UK are less likely to be unemployed than males (7.3 per cent, as compared to 8.4 per cent). However, UK women are three times more likely to be in part-time employment than males (38.4 per cent; 11.7 per cent) and spend almost twice as much time per day on unpaid work. There is also a discrepancy in the ratio between female and male STEM students (30:70).

The Fawcett Society outlines several areas that could improve equality in the UK: lifting the minimum wage, pay transparency, increasing maternity and paternity pay and improving the quality and affordability of childcare. Many of its suggestions run counter to austerity measures, but the UK government is supporting a scheme called Think, Act, Report that provides a step-by-step framework to help companies think about gender equality.

Gender diversity isn’t just a social nicety for C-suite executives to consider. Research shows that diversity is a sign of a healthy company worth investing in. A 2012 gender diversity report from Credit Suisse tested the performance of 2,360 companies, and concluded that it was better to invest in companies with women on the management board. Studies have shown that companies with diverse leadership create a powerful trickle-down effect that permeates throughout a company.

“There is another simple and powerful reason why more women should be empowered: fairness,” says Schwab. “Women represent one half of the global population – they deserve equal access to health, education, influence, earning power and political representation. Their views and values are critical for ensuring a more prosperous and inclusive common future. Humanity’s collective progress depends on it.”

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