The “Fearless Girl” Has More Battles to Fight to Achieve Parity

The installment of the “Fearless Girl” statue on Wall Street focused the entire world’s attention on just how few women there are running large U.S. companies. But gender inequality in the workplace, including the gender pay gap, is far from a problem in just the United States. It remains a worldwide issue. Despite increased efforts to level the playing field between men and women in the workplace, surprising new research shows that the worldwide equality gap is actually beginning to widen for the first time in a decade, which means, we have a lot more work to do for women to reach parity.

After years of slow, but forward progress, this year marks the first time that the annual Global Gender Gap Report published by the World Economic Forum (WEF) on November 2, 2017, showed a decrease in pay and employment parity – increasing the number of years that it will take for the disparities in opportunities between men and women to end. According to the 2017 report, it will now take 217 years for women to achieve the same job and wage opportunities as men around the world. That’s a whopping 47 years more than the WEF researchers calculated just last year. The WEF has been ranking 144 countries on the gap between women and men based on economic, health, education and political indicators since 2006. One of the fastest-growing gaps in this year’s report is the economic pillar that measures salaries, workforce participation, and leadership. On average, women around the world are still earning less than men by a large amount. I couldn’t agree more with Saadia Zahidi, the WEF’s head of education, gender and work who said, “In 2017 we should not be seeing progress towards gender parity shift into reverse.”

Thankfully, there are still “boots on the ground” working every day to help narrow the gender gap. For example, on November 14, the Women’s Forum of New York (WFNY) is hosting their fourth biennial “Breakfast for Corporate Champions” where corporate leaders from all corners of the business and entertainment industries are coming together to salute those companies who are leading the way on gender balance – honoring S&P 500 and Fortune 1000 companies where at least 25 percent of corporate board seats are held by women. The event draws more than 500 of the country's leading CEOs and business leaders, government officials, thought leaders and influential media who gather to discuss why having women in the boardroom is a strategic business imperative and how to achieve gender parity in the boardroom by 2025. I couldn’t be more excited about the moderators that the Ogilvy Media Influence team helped to secure this year, which are Andrew Ross Sorkin (CNBC), Rebecca Jarvis (ABC News) and Susan Chira (The New York Times) who will be leading three discussion panels during the breakfast.

And this year they’ll have even more to discuss, including how we can continue recent forward progress. For example, this week, the nonprofit 2020 Women on Boards announced that women now hold 20.8 percent of the board seats of publicly traded companies, according to this year’s Gender Diversity Index of Fortune 1000 Companies exceeding the organization’s 20 percent national campaign goal. Additionally, today there are 32 women CEOs on the Fortune 500 list, which is the highest proportion of female CEOs in the 63-year history of the Fortune 500. However, that number still represents only a mere 6.4 percent of the largest companies in America being run by women. And while it’s important to celebrate positive growth trends, we have to keep in mind that the disparity in leadership heavily contributes to the economic gap between men and women in the workplace, which believe it or not, some people still don’t believe exists. Clearly, this is part of the problem.

A recent article in the Washington Post provided a comprehensive analysis of the factors that contribute to why the median salary for women working full-time is only roughly 80 percent of men’s, including occupation, working hours, education attainment, experience, and geography. The piece provided cold, hard data in response to the arguments that pay gap deniers offer as reasons that gender disparity is a myth based on women’s choices, rather than discrimination. According to the article, the only way to solve the problem is to uncover the deep complexities of all the variables that continue to hold women back, so that companies and governments alike can enact policies that will truly help women achieve parity.

This is another area where the WFNY has been very active. Earlier this spring the organization commissioned a survey designed to get to the bottom of some of those variables that present roadblocks to women’s progress toward equality in the workplace, namely the C-suite. Based on the WFNY survey results, an overwhelming majority of executives believe gender parity in the boardroom is good for business – a fact that’s been demonstrated in a great deal of recent research – yet the WFNY survey showed there remained deep divisions in how men and women executives view gender equality at the top-most leadership positions.

For example, shockingly, twice the number of men than women executives in the survey believe gender parity in the boardroom and C-suite has already happened, and less than half of men in senior leadership positions believe they have any personal responsibility in helping achieve parity–significantly lower than their women counterparts. Janice Ellig, Chairperson, Corporate Board Initiative for WFNY discussed these and other obstacles for changing the current corporate landscape in an interview about the survey results on the popular live streaming financial news network Cheddar, which broadcasts live daily from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. Identifying where problems exist and holding companies accountable is one way to help. We’re starting to see this happen at a number of companies, including top media organizations like the Wall Street Journal, that are beginning to have to “face the music” when it comes to gender pay inequality. Take for example Elva Ramirez who recently reported that she left the WSJ in late August 2017 because she was making about $13,000 less than some of her male colleagues. Ramirez said that she was one of three live show producers on the WSJ video team who all shared the same expectations from their bosses, but were all paid wildly different salaries. News Corp., the WSJ’s parent company, began investigating gender pay discrepancies after the union that represents staffers reported issues like these earlier this year.

Having gender diversity, particularly at the highest levels of any corporate structure, has proven to be a strategic business imperative, yet the surprising lack of consensus about the issue that exists between men and women executives remains one of the biggest obstacles to changing the current corporate landscape. And while there’s been progress, companies around the world still have a tremendous amount of work to do to achieve gender parity. The hope is that programs like the WFNY Breakfast of Champions can help reverse this year’s downward trend in the WEF’s Global Gender Gap Report in 2018.

The good news is, as always, women remain up for the challenge!

* NOTE: Shareese Thompson contributed to this article.

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