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Gradual progress towards gender equality

Gradual progress towards gender equality

24-06-2019 | Insight

Companies still have a long way to go to make men and women equals in the workplace, a RobecoSAM study reveals.

  • Jacob  Messina, CFA
    Jacob
    Messina, CFA
    CFA, MBA, Executive Director, Head of Sustainable Investing Research, RobecoSAM
  • Markéta  Pokorná
    Markéta
    Pokorná
    Sustainability Investing Associate

Speed read

  • Proportion of women in the workforce has slipped
  • It will take 22 years to remove male/female pay gap
  • Support for child care and flexible working is rising

The research shows that there has been slow but sure progress towards greater gender equality, but much still needs to be done on pay, opportunities and child care. 

On the particularly vexed issue of pay, at the current rate it will take 22 years to close the salary differential, say Jacob Messina, RobecoSAM’s Head of Research, and Markéta Pokornà, SI Research Associate.

“Gender diversity enhances corporate governance, talent attraction and human capital development – all are important factors driving long-term competitiveness,” Messina says in the research paper entitled ‘Slowly but surely: gradual progress towards gender equality’ published in the RobecoSAM Yearbook 2019.

“Corporate policies promoting gender diversity are a reflection of a well-managed company that realizes diversity’s value in stimulating creativity, fostering innovation, minimizing risk, and increasing productivity in tandem with employee well-being.”

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Measurement framework

“RobecoSAM’s gender measurement framework supports this view and suggests that companies with a more diverse and equal workforce are indeed better positioned to outperform,” adds Pokornà.

“Furthermore, by levelling the playing field in the workplace, firms can also help promote gender equality in wider society. Similarly, investors who take these factors into account can play a role in driving social change in addition to enhancing their returns.”

Measuring gender equality criteria is a critical measure within the social dimension of the SAM Corporate Sustainability Assessment (CSA) which evaluates a company’s overall sustainability performance. Findings from the most recent CSA shows that while awareness and action on gender parity issues has accelerated in the public sector, the speed of change hasn’t been matched in corporate settings. 

Four main topics

The CSA measures gender diversity in the annual collection of data about companies’ environmental, social and governance ( ESG) performance. The questions about gender-based practices cover four main topics:
  • The proportion of women on a company’s board of directors and whether gender diversity is part of the nomination policy and process: this is important as women are currently under-represented on boards globally; companies need to demonstrate a transparent and formalized commitment to diversity at the highest leadership levels
  • Gender diversity in the workforce, including the percentage of women in management positions: in the belief that having a balanced mix of men and women boosts a company’s performance potential
  • Pay ratios: capturing data to determine whether remuneration is equal between the female and male workforce at different levels (non-management, management, executive)
  • Employees and family care: although parental responsibilities still fall disproportionately on women, childcare issues can affect both sexes and require a balanced approach. 

Wealth of statistics

The RobecoSAM study has uncovered a wealth of statistics, both positive and negative, with wide regional variances on how gender equality is progressing. For example, Europe is the best-performing region as 29% of board members are female, while this slips to as low as 7% in the more culturally patriarchal parts of Asia. 

The proportion of women in the workforce globally fell slightly from 35.3% to 35.0% from 2016 to 2017, reversing an increasing trend seen in recent years. Curiously, over the same time period, there was an increase in the proportion of women in management positions from 26.0% to 26.3%.

At the sector level, while women make up over half of the total workforce in financial services sector, they account for less than a quarter of its senior managers. The energy, utilities and materials sectors all have lower average proportions of women in their overall workforce with 25%, 23%, and 18%, respectively, with no major improvements since 2013.

“Gender diversity can only be achieved by promoting gender equality, not in terms of quotas or inaccurate measures of outcomes, but by addressing the social and cultural stereotypes that have limited women’s ability to maximize professional opportunities,” say Messina and Pokornà. “Albeit slowly, the needle is moving in the right direction.”

Read the full article ‘Slowly but surely: gradual progress towards gender equality', or register to download the full Yearbook. 

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