Why we can't wait 117 years for gender equality

Gender equality benefits women, men *and* the economy, so we have to get there ASAP, not next century, says Lauren Laverne

Try to imagine the world in a hundred years’ time. How many amazing, revolutionary changes will have taken place by 2116? Will there be human colonies on Mars? Computers we can control using our brains? Cancer-curing nanobots that roam our bodies while we sleep and stop us getting ill? Apparently all these things are perfectly possible. There’s another prediction, too, though it will come to pass a little later. The World Economic Forum forecasts that in one hundred and seventeen years’ time there will be gender parity in the global workplace. Picture it! Men and women leading companies and governments together, wielding equal power (like something out of Star Trek, except not because although that show was awesome it was also pretty sexist).

The news that we may own driverless cars, manipulate our genes to eliminate health problems and plug information streams directly into our cerebral cortexes for fun before this is due to happen is shocking. Why is the pace of change so slow? How come technology, medicine and transport are streaking ahead whilst gender equality inches forward at a snail’s pace? I know, I know…because culture and structural inequality are complex and take decades to reshape. Or at least they do without the presence of an urgent imperative, like profit. If only equality could lead to - oh, I don’t know - vast financial gain?

Great news! Gender equality in the workplace could lead to vast financial gain! In 2014 the World Economic Forum made the economic case like this “Gender equality is fundamental to whether and how societies thrive…empowering women means a more efficient use of a nation’s human capital endowment and reducing gender inequality enhances productivity and economic growth.” EY’s Women. Fast Forward campaign suggests the economic case for change is compelling too. Data suggests that as well as increasing GDP (a lot – to pick one example, India could experience a 27% uplift), productivity and overall prosperity increases along with gender equality. The data shows other benefits. More diverse company boards command higher share prices and improved financial performance (between 2005 and 2014, boards with a higher-than-average percentage of women outperformed those with fewer than average by 36%). Balanced leadership at work was also shown to improve productivity and more equal government to make countries more prosperous. 

Which all begs the question - why is it going to be 117 years before we fix this? It’s time to stop thinking of gender equality as something that ‘benefits women’ and start pursuing it as sensible economic policy that benefits everyone. EY’s research into how we think about gender equality revealed that we have some way to go before this shift in attitude takes place. In their research sample, 61% of men (but only 38% of women) felt that equality between the sexes at work already existed. Meanwhile 70% of women (compared to just 53% of men) felt achieving equality was “very important”. We know that companies like The Pool - which is founded and run by a largely female team - are in the minority.

The reasons for this are complex and deep-rooted, and nobody would pretend that we can level the playing field overnight. But since times are hard and it’s clear inequality is holding us back, can we afford not to? 

How long are you prepared to wait? 

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