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Gender Inequality is Not Just a Moral and Human Right Issue, It Is a Bottom Line Issue

Culture

Businesses that neglect their most valuable assets lose competitiveness and long-term profitability. The same is true on a larger scale for national economies. So why do we continue to tolerate the enormous, yet preventable waste of human capital caused by gender inequality? Isn't it time we addressed this question as one of the top international economic priorities?


Only around 50% of women globally are in paid work outside the agricultural sector compared to 77% of men. This gap in employment rates has barely narrowed over the last twenty years. Worse still, the gap widens the higher up the career ladder you go. The number of female CEOs of Fortune 500 companies has actually fallen by a quarter over the last year to under 5%. A sobering reality indeed.

As I was discussing these issues with NGO and business leaders at the Concordia Summit and the World Economic Forum during the most recent United Nations General Assembly, I was struck by three main challenges.

First, men seem to be doing very little to bridge the gender gap. The advocacy is mostly led by women, as was the case with the suffragette movement at the beginning of the 20th century to give equal rights for women to vote. As long as men do not understand that bridging the gender gap is their responsibility as well, very little progress will be made. It is high time for men to step up and lead together with women to address this issue.

Second, very few business leaders seem to understand that gender inequality is not just a moral and human right issue, it is also a bottom line issue. It constitutes the single biggest distortion in the modern labour market and a major impediment to wealth creation. It prevents talent from rising to its natural level and leads to the systematic misallocation of resources, leaving the global economy worse off in the process.

It has been estimated that closing the gender gap would add $28tn to the value of the global economy – a 26% increase – by 2025. The dividend would be equal to the combined GDPs of the US and China. There is today an extensive body of research showing a strong link between female empowerment and economic development. Put simply, companies and societies are more likely to grow and prosper when women gain greater financial independence as wage earners and property owners.

Forward-thinking companies should be looking for ways to empower women at work, not just as a moral obligation, but also as a sound business strategy. A 2017 report by McKinsey noted that companies with three or more women on their executive committees performed better according to a broad set of organisational criteria, including innovation and quality of leadership. It further concluded that companies with the most women in senior positions achieved returns on equity 47% higher than those with none.

Third, when advancing female economic empowerment, the international community seems to mostly focus on helping women to break the glass ceiling in companies currently dominated by men. While this is important, we are also missing a big piece of the puzzle. I am convinced that the most effective strategy would be to actually increase opportunities for women to create and build companies of their own. Championing women's entrepreneurship will contribute more to a narrowing of the gender gap than promotion within existing businesses.

Sadly, today's entrepreneurs are still twice as likely to be men than women. Female entrepreneurs receive a disproportionately small amount of venture funding, with only 2.2% of the total invested in the US last year going to women-owned start-ups. This is despite the fact that companies founded by women deliver significantly higher returns than the market average, according to surveys. More must be done to provide the investment capital needed to support and accelerate the emerging revolution in female entrepreneurship.

I know from my own experience running one of the leading direct selling networks in Asia, Africa and Middle East that women are equally talented and eager to take control for themselves and become entrepreneurs.

When Nobel Prize Winner Professor Muhammed Yunus created the first ever microcredit bank in Bangladesh more than 30 years ago, he noticed that women were more likely than men to run their business in a professional way and to repay loans. As a result, more than 90% of Grameen bank customers are women.

Gender inequality is not a fatality. But turning this vision into reality will need more than good intentions. It will require transformative change in the way we do business and support entrepreneurs.

Career

Male Managers Afraid To Mentor Women In Wake Of #MeToo Movement

Women in the workplace have always experienced a certain degree of discrimination from male colleagues, and according to new studies, it appears that it is becoming even more difficult for women to get acclimated to modern day work environments, in wake of the #MeToo Movement.


In a recent study conducted by LeanIn.org, in partnership with SurveyMonkey, 60% of male managers confessed to feeling uncomfortable engaging in social situations with women in and outside of the workplace. This includes interactions such as mentorships, meetings, and basic work activities. This statistic comes as a shocking 32% rise from 2018.

What appears the be the crux of the matter is that men are afraid of being accused of sexual harassment. While it is impossible to discredit this fear as incidents of wrongful accusations have taken place, the extent to which it has burgeoned is unacceptable. The #MeToo movement was never a movement against men, but an empowering opportunity for women to speak up about their experiences as victims of sexual harassment. Not only were women supporting one another in sharing to the public that these incidents do occur, and are often swept under the rug, but offered men insight into behaviors and conversations that are typically deemed unwelcomed and unwarranted.

Restricting interaction with women in the workplace is not a solution, but a mere attempt at deflecting from the core issue. Resorting to isolation and exclusion relays the message that if men can't treat women how they want, then they rather not deal with them at all. Educating both men and women on what behaviors are unacceptable while also creating a work environment where men and women are held accountable for their actions would be the ideal scenario. However, the impact of denying women opportunities of mentorship and productive one-on-one meetings hinders growth within their careers and professional networks.

Women, particularly women of color, have always had far fewer opportunities for mentorship which makes it impossible to achieve growth within their careers without them. If women are given limited opportunities to network in and outside of a work environment, then men must limit those opportunities amongst each other, as well. At the most basic level, men should be approaching female colleagues as they would approach their male colleagues. Striving to achieve gender equality within the workplace is essential towards creating a safer environment.

While restricted communication and interaction may diminish the possibility of men being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment, it creates a hostile
environment that perpetuates women-shaming and victim-blaming. Creating distance between men and women only prompts women to believe that male colleagues who avoid them will look away from or entirely discredit sexual harassment they experience from other men in the workplace. This creates an unsafe working environment for both parties where the problem at hand is not solved, but overlooked.

According to LeanIn's study, only 85% of women said they feel safe on the job, a 5% drop from 2018. In the report, Jillesa Gebhardt wrote, "Media coverage that is intended to hold aggressors accountable also seems to create a sense of threat, and people don't seem to feel like aggressors are held accountable." Unfortunately, only 16% of workers believed that harassers holding high positions are held accountable for their actions which inevitably puts victims in difficult, and quite possibly dangerous, situations. 50% of workers also believe that there are more repercussions for the victims than harassers when speaking up.

In a research poll conducted by Edison Research in 2018, 30% of women agreed that their employers did not handle harassment situations properly while 53% percent of men agreed that they did. Often times, male harassers hold a significant amount of power within their careers that gives them a sense of security and freedom to go forward with sexual misconduct. This can be seen in cases such as that of Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and R. Kelly. Men in power seemingly have little to no fear that they will face punishment for their actions.


Source-Alex Brandon, AP

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook executive and founder of LeanIn.org., believes that in order for there to be positive changes within work environments, more women should be in higher positions. In an interview with CNBC's Julia Boorstin, Sandberg stated, "you know where the least sexual harassment is? Organizations that have more women in senior leadership roles. And so, we need to mentor women, we need to sponsor women, we need to have one-on-one conversations with them that get them promoted." Fortunately, the number of women in leadership positions are slowly increasing which means the prospect of gender equality and safer work environments are looking up.

Despite these concerning statistics, Sandberg does not believe that movements such as the Times Up and Me Too movements, have been responsible for the hardship women have been experiencing in the workplace. "I don't believe they've had negative implications. I believe they're overwhelmingly positive. Because half of women have been sexually harassed. But the thing is it is not enough. It is really important not to harass anyone. But that's pretty basic. We also need to not be ignored," she stated. While men may be feeling uncomfortable, putting an unrealistic amount of distance between themselves and female coworkers is more harmful to all parties than it is beneficial. Men cannot avoid working with women and vice versa. Creating such a hostile environment is also detrimental to any business as productivity and communication will significantly decrease.

The fear or being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment is a legitimate fear that deserves recognition and understanding. However, restricting interactions with women in the workplace is not a sensible solution as it can have negatively impact a woman's career. Companies are in need of proper training and resources to help both men and women understand what is appropriate workplace behavior. Refraining from physical interactions, commenting on physical appearance, making lewd or sexist jokes and inquiring about personal information are also beneficial steps towards respecting your colleagues' personal space. There is still much work to be done in order to create safe work environments, but with more and more women speaking up and taking on higher positions, women can feel safer and hopefully have less contributions to make to the #MeToo movement.