The time it will take to close the global gender gap narrowed to 99.5 years in 2019. While an improvement since 2018 – when the gap was calculated to take 108 years to close – it still means parity between men and women across health, education, work and politics will take more than a lifetime to achieve. This is the finding of the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2020, published just before Christmas.

 

The Gap has serious consequences that we may not think about in our everyday life. Just to mention two examples, from Caroline Criado Perez’ book 'Invisible Women' that usually makes everybody raise their eyebrows: Women in Britain are 50% more likely to be misdiagnosed following a heart attack, as heart failure trials generally use male participants. Furthermore, cars are designed around the body of the 'Reference Man', so although men are more likely to crash, women involved in collisions are nearly 50% more likely to be seriously hurt.

 

Mindblowing!

 

The economic gap

Looking at the economic gap between men and women, the gender gap can be explained by a number of factors. The fact that women tend to spend at least twice as much time on care and voluntary work. Secondly, that not enough women are entering technology-driven professions, where salaries are booming. And lastly, that there still is an extremely low level of women in managerial or leadership positions.

 

A lot of companies and organisations are starting to at least talk about the need for more women in management - and in general the need for more diversity and inclusion. The business case is also there. McKinsey & Company examined over 1,000 companies and found that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 21% more likely to enjoy above-average profitability. Furthermore, companies in the top quartile for ethnic diversity are 33% more likely to see higher than average profits than companies in the lowest quartile.

 

However, the journey towards more gender equality in businesses feels a bit like there is something wrong with the women...

 

Fixing the women

A quick scroll through companies’ diversity and inclusion programmes on their website or branding on LinkedIn often ends in the same result: The female leadership development programme. Designed to empower women with their managerial efforts and support them on the development path towards the great leadership role. Highlighted in the employer branding as an opportunity for female talents.

 

And it is not just the companies themselves. From 'Lean In' by Sheryl Sandberg to #Girlboss by Sophia Amoruso to 'Nice Girls Don't Get the Corner Office' by Lois P Frankel, women are told that if they want to succeed at work, they need to fix themselves. Lean in, don't lean out. Be a fighter and a rule-breaker to be a #Girlboss. Stop being nice and start acting like a man.

 

Fix the system

Instead of examining the significant structural biases, somehow the story about women's marginalisation at work has often ended up sounding like a broken record of innate female failings: low confidence and assertiveness, poor at negotiating, risk averse and just a tad too emotional.

 

However, this is not a women’s issue. This is a system issue, and when we make it a woman issue we create two things. One is that men feel that they're being blamed. The second is that we then think we need to fix women. There's nothing that needs to be fixed about women. We need to fix the system.

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