Companies Must Lead the Change for Gender Equality


Gender equality is at the forefront of many company strategies, yet over the next 100 years, women in the workforce will continue to experience inequality. In four simple steps, enterprises can begin to narrow the gender gap and empower their female employees, writes Mai Lan Nguyen, senior vice president of human resources, Schneider Electric.

Gender equality in the workplace is a critical topic, and for good reason.

Research clearly shows that companies and employees experience real benefits when they commit to gender equality. These include higher retention rates, more innovation, greater job satisfaction, Opens a new window and above-average profitability, for starters.

Benefits aside, failure to address gender equality can have a devastating impact on a business. For example, roughly 80 percent of women would switch employers if they felt the other company offered greater equality. Turnover due to gender inequality wastes resources and hurts your bottom line. Consider also that women make up well over half the students attending U.S. universities, meaning over half the pool of emerging talent consists of women.

It’s safe to say that companies can afford to be gender inclusive. However, we haven’t yet reached true equality.

Breaking down gender inequality in the workplace

In the United States and around the world, there are still major gaps when it comes to pay, policy enforcement, and equal representation. According to a 2019 compensation report from PayScale, women in the United States earn roughly 79 cents for every dollar earned by a man, regardless of seniority or job position. Likewise, for every 79 women promoted to manager, 100 men receive the same promotion.

Unfortunately, the statistics are just as bleak on the global scale — researchers predict the economic gap won’t close until 2133.

Do you notice a pattern here?

Although corporations aren’t the only driver for gender equality, they do play a transformative role. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that equality is impossible without strong leadership from companies.

What can we do to bridge this gap once and for all? Here are four areas every company can explore to practice gender equality.

Learn more: The Future of Gender Pay Equality Relies on Today’s LeadersOpens a new window

Four ways companies can practice gender equality

1. Focus on representation

Although women make up nearly 47 percent of the workforce, they’re more likely to be underrepresented at virtually every level. Per a report by McKinsey & Company, women account for 37 percent of managers, 27 percent of vice presidents, and only 17 percent of the c-suite.

And yes, more women are indeed taking leadership roles now compared to past decades, but that’s not good enough.

Thankfully, there are solid benefits for companies with a gender-diverse workforce. The Delivering through DiversityOpens a new window report found that companies ranking in the top quarter for gender diversity were 21 percent more likely to see above-average profitability than those in the bottom quarter. Simply put, representation is good for business.

What can companies do to diversify the workplace? You can begin by evaluating longstanding hiring and promotion practices, identifying gaps or inconsistencies, and implementing actionable solutions. Investing in unconscious bias training, expanding career development opportunities, and creating a review process to improve representation are all solid starting points.

2. Incorporate a paid family leave program

It’s virtually unanimous: Studies show family leave policies benefit parents and their children. However, businesses also see a positive boost when incorporating a family leave program, including increased morale and higher retention. In fact, women who take parental leave are 93 percent more likely to return to the workforce. 

Countries around the world are putting a strong focus on these policies. Over 50 countries offer six months or more of paid leave. However, the United States ranks last when it comes to federally mandated paid leave for parents of newborn or adopted children. Instead of state-sponsored benefits, companies are forced to create their own policies to supplement the Family and Medical Leave Act’s 12-week unpaid allotment.

Unfortunately, only one in six civilian workers in the U.S. had access to company-sponsored paid leave as of 2016. And even when women get this option, many feel that taking it leaves them vulnerable for replacement or makes them appear less valuable compared to their coworkers.

So, how can we provide women the support they need to care for themselves, their children, and their careers while redressing the gender imbalance?

We can elevate gender equality by implementing parental leave policies that don’t just include, but encourage, leave for both primary and secondary parents. Leaders (e.g., Prince Harry and Reddit CEO Alexis Ohanian) have worked to change norms for both men and women by taking their entitled leave and vocally advocating for both parents’ rights to do so.

3. Stand up for equal pay

Remember when I mentioned that women in the United States still only earn 79 cents for every dollar earned by men? It’s a fact that bears repeating. When you factor in the earnings of women worldwide, the ratio decreases to 77:100.

True gender equality is impossible without equal pay. However, it’s up to companies to take a look at their own practices and fine-tune the pay scale to ensure it’s transparent and equal. Why is it so important? Studies show that equal pay helps companies with hiring, promotions, and overall retention.  

Committing to equal pay for equal work and experience is the first step. From there, companies can take their commitment further by reporting their pay by gender and communicating this to employees and the public.

4. Enforce gender-related policies in the workplace

Over a quarter of women experience sexual harassment in the workplace. Violence and discrimination are also common issues faced by women across the world in all industries and positions. But the problems don’t start and end here.

Women facing these struggles at work are also more likely to experience other negative consequences, including career interruptions, lower earnings, and limited advancement.

Discriminatory, unsafe, and unhealthy work conditions exacerbate the gender disparity.

However, companies can minimize these adverse effects by implementing and enforcing strong policies that target sexual harassment, violence, and discrimination. At Schneider Electric, we created a zero-tolerance harassment policy defining the different forms of harassment and the roles and responsibilities of employees, managers, and witnesses.

Working toward an equal future

No country in the world is on track to achieve gender equality by 2030. That’s a staggering fact that reinforces the need for companies to lead the charge. Sure, we’ve made considerable strides to level the playing field over the past decade, but there’s still work to do. By addressing pay gaps, harassment paid leave, and overall representation, companies can take an active role in minimizing the gap.  

Quite frankly, the time for action is now.

Learn more: Using AI to Improve Sexual Harassment Training and ReportingOpens a new window