Women’s under-representation in leadership limits the presence of female voices in important decisions and contributes to the gender pay gap. (Photo by Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock)

Women around the world continue to be constrained when it comes to economic empowerment and advancement, due to a variety of social, legal and institutional barriers: the double burden of work and domestic responsibilities; gender stereotypes around women in the workplace; which sectors they choose; a lack of female role models; and a lack of opportunities to network.

Companies cannot simply launch programmes and expect results. Instead, they need a strong focus on implementation, just as they would for any other business priority.

One of the most effective ways of eliminating these constraints is by changing things at the leadership level. The G20 Empower Alliance, which brings together private sector leaders and their government counterparts to jointly advocate for and enact women’s advancement to leadership positions in the private sector, is working to implement this change by ensuring women have equal access to the necessary financing, capital, skills development and training, leadership and market opportunities.

Women’s under-representation in leadership limits the presence of female voices in important decisions, and deprives girls and young women of strong role models. While far from the only cause, this under-representation in leadership also contributes to related inequalities, such as the gender pay gap and gender differences in wealth and economic security. Tackling gender inequalities in leadership can help to tackle gender inequalities elsewhere, as there is ample evidence that diverse and inclusive companies are likely to make better and bolder decisions. Also, as explained by McKinsey during the first plenary of G20 Empower, a ‘best in region’ scenario, in which all countries match the rate of improvement of the fastest-improving country in their region with regards to gender parity, could add $12trn to the world’s gross domestic product in 2025.

Taking a stand on gender equality measurement

This is why business leaders from the G20 and guest countries, working hand in hand with governments as part the G20 Empower Alliance, have decided, under the 2021 Italian presidency, to accelerate this front by taking an ambitious stand on the topic of measurement. G20 Empower will release its final recommendations to G20 heads of state in the coming months, but its community of business leaders across 28 countries is already taking action to make progress on measurement, without which gender inequalities in women’s economic representation and in leadership positions can’t be tracked or addressed. In the meantime, here are three important measurement actions that the private sector can encompass to accelerate female advancement around the world:

  • Establishing and tracking clear metrics: Establishing and tracking clear metrics as the basis of any discussion on women in leadership is critical. Companies need to set clear, quantifiable diversity goals, measure their progress over time, and foster transparency by reporting their progress publicly. Perhaps most importantly, these organisations should implement the use of key performance indicators to hold leaders accountable for results. Companies can use these measurements to refine their approach, building on successes and rethinking initiatives that don’t lead to quantifiable results.
  • Measuring the implementation of diverse and gender equality programmes: The importance of measuring comes from the fact that many programmes to address gender inequalities are in place, but since their implementation and results are not measured, they are not as effective as they should be. Companies cannot simply launch programmes and expect results. Instead, they need a strong focus on implementation, just as they would for any other business priority. Specifically, the success of each of these initiatives requires leadership commitment, a tailored approach that is based on the unique needs of the organisation, and metrics for gauging progress.
  • Measurement expansion: Measurement needs to go beyond the usual indicator of women on boards, and encompass executive positions, share of promotions and workforce inclusion, the advancement of women in technical roles, and the gender pay gap. Companies need to make sure they also have metrics in place to measure pay, recruitment, retention, advancement and representation, as these will also help organisations to assess where they are today and where they need to change. Governments could also support such efforts by incentivising companies that measure these indicators and are making progress, supporting them to accelerate the advancement of women as business leaders in the private sector.

As a representative for the kingdom of the Netherlands, I encourage all companies, starting from today, to make measurement a true business priority. While many have made notable progress, we have yet to see material gains in momentum. Companies need to proactively own their diversity agenda and manage it like a true business priority. They need to relentlessly measure both hard and soft metrics and set clear and ambitious targets, design interventions to achieve those goals, and build on their successes to generate greater momentum.

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