The Gender Gap

We await the publication of the World Economic Forum (WEF) report on gender equality. A year ago, Ireland was reported at 8th place of 142 countries on the WEF’s Global Gender Gap Report 2014. The UK fell 8 places to 26th. High life expectancy and equal access to third level education contributed to Ireland’s strong performance. 8th place sounds pretty good, but then we held fifth and sixth places in 2012 and 2013 respectively.

The WEF Global Gender Gap examines the gap between men and women in four main areas: Economic Participation and Opportunity, Educational Attainment, Heath and Survival, and Political Empowerment. The first of these looks to a variety of career related factors such as workforce participation, age equality, along with the ratio of females holding senior positions or professional and technical positions.

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) suggests in a recent study that stereotypes may be turning girls off STEM subjects. Girls are not keen on tech’s geeky, anti-social, nerdy image. This is a cause of real concern to a country whose employment landscape is growing through tech and science.

Professional services firms suffer a similar challenge. While female graduate level entrants often outnumber their male counterparts, few females make it to partner level. Often they choose to opt for in-house or industry roles which can offer greater flexibility around family needs. Across Europe, women make up 46% of the workforce but only 11% of the boardroom population. Ireland’s figures are about 40% less than the European average.

A recent McKinsey survey of 60 major corporations shows that of 325,000 women who had entry level positions, only 150,000 had made it to middle management. Only 7,000 made it to VP, SVP or CEO level. Even when women are able to stay in their careers long term, Eurostat suggests that the pay gap between men and women in Ireland is widening with men paid 14% more than women.

A lack of affordable childcare is a factor in all of this, with Ireland being amongst the most expensive in the World for private childcare. Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund is very aware of the distinctly different support systems offered to mothers in Europe. She describes how she brought up her own children in France where she had publicly funded childcare from three months to three years.

All of which points to an astonishing loss of opportunity to a small open economy seeking to grow out of challenging economic times. The WEF’s own statistics show the startling impact on growth in GDP that increasing the participation of women in the workforce can have. A Credit Suisse Research Report in conjunction with Harvard Business School tested the performance of 2,360 companies globally over a six year period. It reveals that not only would it have been better on average to have invested in corporates with women on their boards, but that companies with at least one woman on the board deliver higher returns, better growth and book value multiples.

Makes you think, doesn’t it?