Who holds the key to closing the skills gap?

Five actions to accelerate gender parity

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Can it be possible that women lost 30 years of progress toward equal economic and political participation with men in just 12 months?

Unfortunately, according to the World Economic Forum, that is precisely what happened in 2015.

In 2014, the WEF predicted that it would be 80 years before gender parity could be achieved, according to the economic, educational, health-based and political indicators at the time. Just a year later, in 2015, that forecast changed to 117 years.

So how can we achieve gender parity when “business as usual” is failing to close the gap both within individual organizations and across nations? At EY, we decided to drive change at the local level by bringing together committed leaders from corporates, entrepreneurship and government.

In 2015, EY established the Women³. The Power of Three, a forum for female and male leaders from corporate, entrepreneurial and government organizations across major markets in EMEIA. After examining a number of different challenges to women in professional roles, the forum focused the last 12 months on how we could better leverage the skills of women throughout the three stages of their career (entrants, express and experienced) to close the global skills gap and support economic growth.

Through 10 regional roundtables with over 150 leaders, plus surveys of more than 1,000 organizations, Women³. The Power of Three developed a set of recommended actions calling on governments, corporates and entrepreneurs to work collectively to address five recommended actions for better harnessing female talent.

Out of these, the group prioritized five specific actions that we believe will hasten change.

Following are highlights from those findings. For more details, download the executive summary or full report.

EY - Julie Linn Teigland
“As the mother of four I feel frustrated that none of my children, my grandchildren or great-grandchildren will live to see gender parity. But let’s go beyond the personal level. A study of 95 countries conducted by the McKinsey Global Institute has found that the opportunity cost of gender inequality is US$28 trillion in terms of lost global GDP, or 26% growth, by 2025. We cannot afford to wait for change.” - Julie Linn Teigland, Managing Partner, EMEIA Accounts, EY

1) Career stage: entrants

Women entering the workforce are typically in their 20s. They have completed tertiary education, and they have set goals in a similar way to their male counterparts. Research shows that while 43% of women aspire to hold top management positions during their first two years in the workforce, this figure drops to 16% by the time they have been employed for five to seven years.

  • Our recommended action:

    Create an “employer of choice award” to recognize organizations with women advancement and supportive environment programs.

    Unlike other award programs, which may be seen as superficial or based on policies, this program is focused on the progress women are making in the organization, and the active participation and encouragement of line managers to champion and support women throughout their careers.

    To have the greatest impact, the award needs to be global and linked to a quality accreditation that measures performance. It should also have a media program built around it to showcase examples of women who have succeeded as a result of their organization creating a supportive environment rather than just drawing up policies.

2) Career stage: express

Express women are advancing rapidly through their organizations, moving along the swell of the wave, and are typically in their 30s and 40s. Since both women and men at this career stage are likely to have parental or other caregiving responsibilities, they need organizations to recognize their various roles and provide them with appropriate support.

  • Our recommended action:

    It is crucial to enhance the number and the visibility of both senior female and senior male role models within organizations. While many governments and organizations have policies that promote supportive working environments – and thereby the creation of role models – they often do not enforce these policies effectively. As a result, forum participants argued that governments should insist on adherence to all relevant policies.

    To monitor progress, governments are advised to require organizations to include the growth and advancement of women among their indicators of success and to report on the progress that they have made. The remuneration of executives and other leaders should also be linked to how the organization performs in this respect.

3) Career stage: experienced

As women reach the crest of their careers, they have a number of options, including holding further senior management positions or developing “encore” careers such as starting an entrepreneurial venture or becoming a board member. Yet, in practice, organizations tend to place limited value on the knowledge and skills that experienced women bring.

  • Our recommended action:

    During our discussions, we explored the notion of capitalizing on experienced women’s knowledge in more detail. We also examined how we could unlock capacity for growth for both experienced women as well as for women across the express and entrant career stages.

    As a result, we identified the potential for an intergenerational hub or an accelerator. This is where the digital and social media experiences of entrants can be combined with the life and work experiences of experienced women to the benefit of both parties in a commercial context.

    Knowledge exchange formed the basis of our recommended action because participants felt that it could ignite positive change within the workplace in all organizational contexts — corporate, entrepreneurial and government.

    To date, this opportunity has not been readily available since we are only witnessing the first wave of senior women progressing through the workplace in major numbers across geographies. So forum participants felt that we should harness this opportunity.

4) Key force: digital technology as an enabler

Digital technology is one of the external forces that can help a woman’s career wave to build momentum. Women consumers are great users of social and mobile technologies. The number of women studying technology or working in technology-specific roles is small, however, and in some locations it is declining.

  • Our recommended action:

    The forum identified a clear need to work with governments to promote awareness of existing funds among female entrepreneurs, to explain to investors why women-led businesses are good investment opportunities, and to match female entrepreneurs with potential funders as well as with coaches, mentors and other entrepreneurs.

    We propose the need for a digital platform to address this globally and locally and would look to governments to develop, host and promote such a platform.

    While some social platforms for female entrepreneurs already exist, there is an absence of official mechanisms connecting them to each other and to other programs supporting female digital entrepreneurs around the world. Many female entrepreneurs are not aware of the financial, operational and personal support available to them, particularly in the digital space, which can empower them to build and scale their businesses.

5) Key force: media as an enabler

Like digital technology, the media can have both a positive and a negative influence on women’s career waves. Unfortunately, at present the media in their broadest sense play a major role in perpetuating female stereotypes and myths about women in the workplace.

  • Our recommended action:

    At our Istanbul forum, we discussed a number of possible solutions for addressing how the media can be transformed from being a barrier to women’s progress in the workplace into being an enabler of it.
    As our recommended action, we identified the creation of a digital platform that ranks the media according to the level of gender parity that exists within their reporting. The platform, which could be a website or another tool, such as a database, would use a set of key performance indicators (KPIs) to rank the different media channels.

    An example of a KPI would be the number of women who are featured in the business section of a newspaper on a regular basis. The platform would also have a “call out” function that enables individuals to participate in the discussion using social media.

EY - Laura Liswood
“I call on everyone, regardless of where they live and the type of organization that they work in, to get behind these actions. The economic empowerment of women is absolutely critical to business innovation and productivity, poverty eradication, the formation of progressive social policies and the creation of a world that is richer in every sense.” - Laura Liswood, Secretary General, Council of Women World Leaders

Women3. The Power of Three

EY - Infographic showing how Women3. The Power of Three helps accelerate the achievement of global parity.

Women³. The Power of Three asks you to support these five actions to better harness women’s talent in order to close the skills gap and thereby accelerate gender parity. It is a huge economic opportunity that the world cannot afford to miss out on. Download the executive summary or the full report, or learn more about Women³. The Power of Three.