Breaking the bias and shattering the glass ceiling – gender diversity and balance in the workplace

Updated: Mar 15

✦ “The freedom to work – by choice, in conditions of dignity, safety and fairness – is integral to human welfare. Guaranteeing that women have access to this right is an important end in itself.” - International Labour Organisation

International Women’s Day was celebrated on March 8th this year with the message #breakthebias.

Whereas there have been significant strides in recent years in efforts to attain gender equality, there is still a significant way to go before we are anywhere near the levels that can be considered fair and appropriate. Whether deliberate or unconscious, bias makes it difficult for women to move ahead, whatever the scenario.

Here we take a peek into the corporate world and how the plight of women differs in certain parts of the world while hearing of ways we can move forward and create a truly diverse and balanced workplace.

‘Broken rung’

Providing a holistic overview, McKinsey showed in their 2021 Women in the Workplace study that the progression of women into senior management positions in corporate America is far slower than that of their male counterparts, with only 86 women being promoted for every 100 men, a dynamic that they label the “broken rung” on the career ladder.

Mercer states that hidden bias in a major stumbling block when it comes to hiring, succession planning and performance management that are most detrimental to women and holding companies back from creating parity and equity.

However, progress and change are being witnessed, even if at a slow pace. The number of women in C-level positions has increased by more than 10% in the last five years, says EDHEC Business School, and 87% of companies today are highly committed to gender diversity, compared to just 56% in 2012.

In their Sustainability Yearbook review last year, S&P Global detailed how regulatory frameworks have been a major driving force towards increasing gender diversity within companies, with the EU leading the charge. France had the highest representation of women at board level with 45%, Norway 39%, Sweden 38%, Italy 37%, Belgium 36%, the UK 34% and Germany 33%. Russia was the lowest on the index with just 10% of the board being female.

Somewhat surprisingly, the USA only had 27% of its corporate board members listed as female, with its northern neighbour Canada only slightly higher at 30%. In Latin America the totals were low with Colombia leading the way on 18%, Brazil on 14% and Mexico a lowly 8%.

Australia leads the way in the Asia Pacific region with 30% of corporate boards having female representation. Malaysia totalled 27%, despite a 2016 law stating any company with more than 250 employees must have boards with at least 30% female representation.

Singapore listed third on the index with 19%, Thailand just behind on 18%. India, where law states it is obligatory to have at least one female director on the board, scored 17%, Hong Kong 13%, Taiwan 12%, Japan 11% and China 10%. South Korea brought up the rear with a worrying 4%.

Diversified workplace at Vermilion Pinstripes
Diversified workplace at Vermilion Pinstripes

The same study states that an increase Sustainability review again which states that eventually the conversation needs to shift to “recognise women for their abilities, experience and skills rather than branding them as diversity trophies. Companies and investors can help the world to wake up to the possibility that women deserve a say in the decision making process as legitimate leaders and fully-entitled human beings.”

‘Trickle-down effect’

Of course, a more equal gender representation can only be a good thing, generating what S&P alludes to as a trickle-down effect on the rest of the workforce that can contribute to breaking down stereotypes on women in leadership and encourage women to pursue their careers further. It can create role models and standard bearers and encourage others to seek roles which they would have not otherwise considered and to ask for more raises and promotions.

The same study states that an increased representation of women at board level can minimise excessive risk-taking which can ultimately enhance profitability and coporate reputation. “These outcomes are not negligible for companies and their shareholders, especially in times of a global pandemic which will require companies to differentiate themselves from their industry peers,” the report notes.