The uphill battle of gender diversity

Eugenia Jiménez
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The uphill battle of gender diversity

Diversity, globalisation and rapid technological change are all woven into the fabric of modern societies. But it is striking that one of these seemingly-universal trends is often missing in corporate life.

 Although this reality should be reflected in the business world, there is some data suggesting it is not the case yet, particularly when looking at gender diversity figures within the financial industry. And it is not just a matter of how many, it is more a question of how.

According to a 2018 report from the World Economic Forum on equal pay across genders, Italy ranked 126th out of 144 countries surveyed worldwide. And the share of unpaid daily work was of 61.5% for Italian women versus a 22.9% for men. These were just some of the figures leading Italy to the less virtuous countries on this report.

Women make up almost half of the labour force at a global level, but the higher we go in the earnings distribution, the fewer women we encounter. And they are also under-represented in leadership positions, constituting a major obstacle for closing the remaining gender pay gaps and achieving full gender equality. 

In an attempt to tackle the issue, policymakers proposed mandated gender quotas. Norway was the first country passing a law requiring a minimum of 40% of each gender on the board of directors of public limited companies in 2003. Since then, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Ireland, Iceland, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, and Spain have adopted similar regulations. 

And they had some positive effect: Female board membership of large listed companies in the EU increased from 12% in 2010 to 23% in 2016. It is not that clear, however, whether mandated gender quotas have an impact on women who are not on corporate boards as well.  

We all embrace them, and they might be effective as a policy measure to promote female career progression to the top levels but, let us be honest, they are not enough. If I may, I would suggest policymakers to change their focus from requiring quotas for the top of an organisation to the much broader responsibility of getting a more balanced gender division, for instance by encouraging more men to take advantage of parental leave scheme. 

And setting aside common sense, fairness, and any moral obligation, we can just mention some of the business benefits of women empowerment at work. McKinsey's most recent Delivering Through Diversity report found that corporations that embrace gender diversity on their executive teams were more competitive and 21% more likely to experience above-average profitability.

It has also been estimated that closing the gender gap would add $28trn to the value of the global economy by 2025 - a 26% increase compared to the current figure.

But it's not all that bad, great progress has been made too. Although it is true that the fight to improve gender equality still goes on, at least the message seems to be getting through.

It is great to see more and more women speaking at industry conferences and events, and the number of high quality entries in these industry awards showed there are so many women who are making huge achievements.

With the ethos to recognise those great achievements InvestmentEurope launched the Women In Investment Awards Italy 2019, boosted by the conviction that they could play a valuable role in drawing attention to the issue while demonstrating that real change is happening.

The Awards aimed primarily to recognise and honour the inspiring achievements of women working for the investment industry in Italy, but also the organisations and mentors supporting them.

But they were also designed to prompt debate, as well as helping to shape the discussion around gender, and other strands of diversity, in the financial sector.

Award-winning stories of individuals can also serve to inspire others and encourage them to keep pushing to unleash their greatest potential.

But let us not forget that diversity and inclusion are not a one-time campaign, initiative, or PR glow. Diversity promotion in the workplace is a work-in-progress task, that needs to be maintained and cultivated to guarantee effectiveness. It might be an uphill battle, but prosperity, development, and success of our societies depends on it.

Eugenia Jiménez
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Eugenia Jiménez

Eugenia Jiménez speaks Spanish and is Iberia Correspondent for Investment Europe covering Spain & Portugal, as well as Italy.