Why Women’s Economic Security Is Good for Everyone
By Wanda T. Wallace, Ph.D.
Who benefits when there’s true equal opportunity in the workplace? Women, of course, but also businesses, families, and communities.
To truly ensure women’s economic security, women need to be given the same opportunities to advance their careers as men, earn the same or more, and not be penalized for taking time out to have children. Clearly, today, this isn’t happening. Business leaders must take the lead in solving this problem, but government also plays an important role. That’s because women’s economic security isn’t just good for women—it benefits companies, families, and communities.
Where we are now
Despite being hired at almost equal levels when they are first starting out, women haven’t progressed at the same rate as their male peers. A recent McKinsey study showed that over the last six years, there’s been almost no progress for women in reaching top positions, such as C-suite roles What this study shows us is companies are hiring women, but they are not retaining and promoting them at the same rate as they do men. A large part of the problem is that women are often put in expertise-driven -roles, which leave them less likely to be considered as credible candidates for more senior positions.
The Cost to Businesses
I’ve been advising major corporations for decades on what managers–male and female–can do to help women advance in their careers. It’s not about just hiring more women (and people of color). It’s about building an environment where they are listened to, where their opinions help shape the business, and they don’t have to become someone else to succeed. This lack of inclusiveness costs companies dearly. They spend a great deal of money recruiting and training talented women only to see them leave to a competitor. This is a huge loss of talent for the employer and a lost opportunity for companies.
And while everyone–women, men, managers, and businesses–have a role to play, so does government. In fact, much of the progress that has been made around women’s equality in the workplace stem from government mandates.
Many countries around the world have grappled with economic equality, and some have passed laws that attempt to support the entire family. And in many cases, it’s worked.
For instance, in much of Northern Europe, mothers and fathers have adequate time off after the arrival of a child. The old standard was that only women took leave after childbirth, even if it was generous. Now, in many countries, parents can split a year of family leave however they want. By decoupling child rearing from gender, governments are helping the whole family and acknowledging that childcare isn’t only women’s work..
Also needed: Laws that protect women when they return from parental leave. Often, her best accounts and projects have been given to others. Women have to fight, sometimes for years, just to get back to where they were.
The importance of transparency
In addition to making this kind of punitive behavior illegal, governments can shine a strong spotlight on corporate practices that either help or hinder equality. In the UK, companies with more than 250 employees are required to publish their gender pay gap. It is a powerful tool—what bright young woman (or man) doesn’t want to work for a company that treats people equally? Not to mention clients, who are increasingly asking about equity statistics and awarding business to those who do better.
Women’s economic security is good for everyone. But, fundamentally, it’s not only about women. It’s about all of us. It’s about building a society where every person, regardless of gender or race, has the same opportunities.
Wanda Wallace is the managing partner and founder of the Leadership Forum. She is also the author of “You Can’t Know It All: Leading in the Age of Deep Expertise” (Harper Collins 2019).