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Why Are We Still 170 Years Away From Gender Parity?

We're actually going backwards.
H. Armstrong Roberts via Getty Images

Early in 2015, consulting giant Ernst & Young launched an online countdown to gender parity. Many of us clicked the refresh button repeatedly, hoping to reveal what must be a joke -- parity was to be achieved in precisely 115 years.

I went back to it recently hoping for a DeLorean time-jump thanks to the subject of women and her ascendancy within our cultural zeitgeist. Instead the timeframe had slid back to a whopping 170 years.

This is greatly upsetting for all of us. It's a signpost of two things: a growing social divide between traditionalists and modern-progressives, and an interminable gross misunderstanding of gender. In business especially, we are losing out on the female opportunity.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres recently stood before a very high-level gathering and extolled the benefits of women's economic empowerment: "This is not only detrimental to women, it represents a loss for society as a whole," he said.

Numerous studies have shown that were women to participate equally in the economy; global GDP could increase by at least 26 percent -- the equivalent of $12 trillion by 2025. A great achievement for the stability and growth of societies and economies worldwide.

The numbers are stacked in favour of soaring profits once the issue of gender gets pushed to the top of the pile.

Bringing the year for achieving gender parity from 2187 to 2025 is going to be hard work if we all want to reap the benefits. Barriers to participation must be removed, pay needs to be distributed equally and work structures should be reworked to cater to everyone's needs.

Even still, it'll take a full commitment to counter pushback. The recent furore in Silicon Valley over standardised diversity and inclusion policies reveals a simmering discontent driving a backlash against the economic benefit to all -- men included.

For every hundred leaders who push gender to the bottom of the slush pile, there are a few who are seeing through the billion-dollar bi-focal lenses. Larry Fink CEO of Black Rock, head of the world's largest asset manager, recently called for a commitment to gender diversity with a truly valuable insight.

"The reality is in the world more than 50 percent of household wealth is managed by women," Fink said to a crowded room at the Bloomberg Business Forum in New York, "And so if I'm going to be a mirror of my clients; we are going to need more women in our firm".

He's not wrong -- Ernst & Young also identified that by 2028 women will be responsible for 75 percent of discretionary spend -- whether we like it or not.

As the world changes, business must move in perfect tandem in order to keep abreast of new needs, evolved understandings, and the tilts and shifts of economic and social power starting especially with gender.

Fink and Black Rock have taken the first step, have you?

1. Identify the clash between the gender of your business culture and the gender of your customers.

When your internal business and its output does not reflect contemporary values and modern life experiences in an increasingly globalised and changing world; then Muhammad must play fast catch up to get to the mountain.

2. Now bring in a female lens.

Seeing through a new focused perspective helps further embed diversity modules and can be learned and valued by both genders. A female lens builds upon the maxim that we can create better connection and empathy with our stakeholders when we 'walk in her/his/their shoes'.

It is understanding gender differences from biology and thinking patterns to life experiences -- and utilising it as a powerful business advantage.

Furthermore, a female lens helps you audit your business from top to bottom, from edge to edge, and assists in identifying the blind spots between your internal culture and the external.

Not to mention that training all employees to see through a female lens will drive cultural buy-in because it values the virtue and innovation of female staff -- while including male staff -- because it becomes a standardised skill for better competitor advantage.

We are at the tip of the disruption iceberg. Whilst many look to technology, there is one perspective that cannot be overlooked due to the sheer economic force of it -- female influence and power.

The numbers are stacked in favour of soaring profits once the issue of gender gets pushed to the top of the pile.

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