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Women in the Workplace

Women in the Workplace

Two recent reports released by the World Economic Forum and the International Labour Organisation reveal that whilst there is an inevitability in the increasing participation of women in the workforce, countries and organisations are still far off the mark in achieving gender equality.


The Corporate Gender Gap - Report 2010, World Economic Forum, Geneva, Switzerland 2010 - Download: Corporate2010.pdf

Women in labour markets: Measuring progress and identifying challenges - March 2010, International Labour Office, Geneva - Download: Women in labour - wcms_123835.pdf

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Fifteen years have passed since the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing decided on a global platform for action on gender equality and women’s empowerment. Several of the strategic areas defined within the platform touch upon aspects of equality for women and men in the world of work, a core value of the International Labour Office (ILO). Specifically, under the header of “women and the economy”, the following strategic objectives are listed:

  • Promote women’s economic rights and independence, including access to employment, appropriate working conditions and control over economic resources.
  • Facilitate women’s equal access to resources, employment, markets and trade.
  • Provide business services, training and access to markets, information and technology, particularly to low-income women.
  • Strengthen women’s economic capacity and commercial networks.
  • Eliminate occupational segregation and all forms of employment discrimination.
  • Promote harmonization of work and family responsibilities for women and men.

Most of these sentiments were reiterated in the more recent, tripartite meeting of the International Labour Conference (ILC) on “Gender equality at the heart of decent work” in 2009. The international community is now anxious to know if progress has been made on the Beijing platform for action and, specifically, on principles of gender equality in the world of work.


"Gender Justice"

The ILO report further notes the increasing use of the phrase "gender justice" as a means by which to focus on the rights which should be afforded to women in the workplace as opposed to the traditional terms "gender equality" and "gender mainstreaming" as these terms have failed to communicate, or provide redress for, the ongoing gender-based injustices from which women suffer.

The aim must not be to force women to fit into a labour market construct that is inherently male, but rather to adapt the labour market construct to incorporate the unique values and constraints of women.


Female labour utilization and rapid economic growth: The Asian Tiger story

The newly industrializing countries − Hong Kong (China), Republic of Korea, Singapore and Taiwan (China) − have been heavily studied by economists and exemplified as remarkable cases of rapid and prolonged industrialization between the early 1960s and 1990s. Explaining the Asian “miracles” is a complex business, with numerous factors contributing to the boom in manufacturing output and exports. What is of interest for this report is the rapid growth in female LFPR (Labour Force Participation Rates) that took place in all four countries. The figure below reflects the notable increases in female participation in all the countries, increases that were well above the general trends. Over the period 1970-2008, the rate in Singapore increased by 26 percentage points. In the other three countries, the increases were not as high but were also impressive at approximately 10 percentage points.

Growth in these countries can largely be explained by mobilization of resources, meaning growth in inputs such as labour and capital, rather than by gains in efficiency.1 The educational standards as well as the investments in physical capital were dramatically improved. These economies had high levels of female educational attainment compared to other developing economies, which contributed to their eventual dominance in the export of electronic products.2 Women were the preferred workers for the light, labour-intensive manufacturing production.

Certainly one of the strongest elements of growth in the economies was the reliance on low-wage female labour. Some researchers claim that gender inequality was a fundamental component of export-oriented economic growth for the Asian Tigers.In short, the Asian Tigers story was one in which significant progress was made in tapping female labour and this fed strong economic growth, but it would be hard to say that women were really better off given the inequality of wages and working conditions.


The Corporate Gender Gap - Report 2010

The most important determinant of a country’s competitiveness is its human talent—the skills, education and productivity of its workforce. Women account for one-half of the potential talent base throughout the world and therefore, over time, a nation’s competitiveness depends significantly on whether and how it educates and utilizes its female talent.

The Report posed the following survey questions which are themselves indicative of gender-equality initiatives adopted by the organisations surveyed. Organisations may do well to review these questions and incorporate these concepts into any systems review of their policies, procedures and practices when evaluating their gender and employment equity initiatives. The survey also provides a useful international benchmark as the target respondents included the 100 largest employers in each of the 30 Member countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and Brazil, Russia, India and China (over 3,400 companies).

Representation of Women in Business

  • What is the approximate percentage of women employees in your company (overall)?
  • Please indicate the appropriate percentage of entry-level management positions in your company that are held by women.
  • Please indicate the approximate percentage of middle management positions in your company that are held by women.
  • Please indicate the approximate percentage of senior management positions in your company that are held by women.
  • Please indicate the percentage of women among the Board of Directors of your company.
  • Is your company’s CEO female or male?
  • Among the assignments that you consider to be business critical/important, what percentage, in your opinion, are currently held by women? (Consider, for example: key startups, turnarounds, and line roles in key business units or markets.)

Measurement and Target Setting

  • Does your company monitor and track salary differences between male and female employees holding similar positions?
  • What percentage of your total employees is part of the following salary brackets (not including bonuses or pension schemes)? Please also indicate what percentage of these are women.
  • Does your company have specified targets, quotas, or other affirmative policies to increase the percentage of women in senior management or executive positions?

Work-Life Balance Practices

  • Does your company offer maternity leave?
  • What is the approximate percentage of salary paid during this period?
  • Does your company offer the option of parental leave, i.e., post-pregnancy leave that can be taken by mothers and fathers?
  • If so, what percentage of those taking this leave are men?
  • Does your company have longer-term leave programmes and/or allow career breaks for parents and caregivers?
  • If your company offers long-term programme and/or career breaks, do you also have “re-entry” programmes that help those employees stay connected while they are away and facilitate their return to the workplace?
  • If your company offers longer-term leave programmes and/or career breaks for parents and/or caregivers, what percentage of those taking this leave are men?
  • Of the total number within each gender that takes this leave, what percentage return to the same position or one with higher responsibility after taking their leave?
  • Does your company actively support employees in their effort to balance work and personal responsibilities through the following policies: flextime/flexible working hours, remote/distance working, and part-time work? If so, indicate the percentage of users and percentage of women users among these.
  • Does your company offer any form of childcare facilities?
  • If yes, please specify the type of childcare facilities.

Mentorship and Training

  • Does your company offer access to mentorship and networking programmes? Select all that apply and indicate percentage of women users if you have this information.
  • Does your company offer executive training and further education opportunities?
  • Is this executive training and further education financed by the company?

Barriers to Leadership

  • General norms and cultural practices in your country
  • Masculine/patriarchal corporate culture
  • Lack of role models
  • Lack of flexible work solutions
  • Lack of opportunities for critical work experience and responsibility
  • Lack of adequate work-life balance policies
  • Lack of networks and mentoring
  • Lack of company leadership commitment to diversity
  • Lack of target-setting for participation of women
  • Lack of acceptance of the use of diversity policies and practices
  • Lack of adequate “re-entry” opportunities
  • Lack of childcare facilities
  • Lack of monitoring of participation of women
  • Lack of adequate information about existing diversity policies and practices
  • Lack of adequate parental leave and benefits
  • Inadequate labour laws & regulations in your country

Economic Growth and Gender Equality - a clear correlation

Numerous studies have confirmed that reducing gender inequality enhances productivity and economic growth and that the economic benefits of scaling back barriers to women’s engagement in the workforce can be substantial. For example, according to recent research, closing the male-female employment gap would have huge economic implications for developed economies, boosting US GDP by as much as 9%, eurozone GDP by as much as 13% and Japanese GDP by as much as 16%. Reducing gender inequality in these countries could also play a key role in addressing the future problems posed by ageing populations and mounting pension burdens. Moreover, in countries in which it is relatively easy for women to work and to have children, female employment and female fertility both tend to be higher. Innovation requires new, unique ideas—and the best ideas flourish in a diverse environment.

This implies that companies benefit by successfully integrating the female half of the available talent pool across their internal leadership structures. Studies exploring this link have shown a positive correlation between gender diversity on top leadership teams and a company’s financial results.


The Corporate Gender Gap - Report 2010, World Economic Forum, Geneva, Switzerland 2010 - Download: Corporate2010.pdf

Women in labour markets: Measuring progress and identifying challenges - March 2010, International Labour Office, Geneva - Download: Women in labour - wcms_123835.pdf

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Subscription Resources

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Gary Watkins

Gary Watkins

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