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The promise of gender equality
Gender equality gets a lot of attention these days, and for good reason: it is not only an issue of fairness but also, for companies, a matter of attracting the best workers, at least half of whom are women. There is also considerable economic value at stake for companies and nations.
A new study by the McKinsey Global Institute finds that the world economy could add trillions of dollars in growth during the next ten years if countries met best-in-region scores for improving women’s participation in the labor force (Exhibit 1). Countries in Latin America, for example, would aim to achieve Chile’s annual rate of increase, 1.9 percentage points, while East and Southeast Asian countries would try to match Singapore’s improvement of 1.1 percentage points a year.
Big as the prize may be, gender equality still eludes companies around the globe. Despite modest improvements in the past few years, women are underrepresented at every level in the corporate pipeline—especially the senior level (Please see Exhibit 2).
Why is progress in gender equality so hard to achieve? A number of factors are involved, but one leading reason is undoubtedly unconscious bias. Film actress Geena Davis believes that it results, in part, from lopsided male representation in television and film—a long-standing trend observed by the Institute on Gender in Media that she founded. “When we present the data to studios and content creators,” she says, “their jaws are on the ground. In family films, the ratio of male to female characters is 3:1. Shockingly, the ratio of male to female characters has been exactly the same since 1946. Of the characters with jobs, 81 percent are male.”
Perception gaps may also be an obstacle. McKinsey research on diversity shows that fewer men than women acknowledge the challenges faced by female employees at work. For instance, when asked whether “even with equal skills and qualifications, women have much more difficulty reaching top-management positions,” the gender divide was striking: 93 percent of women agreed with the statement, but just 58 percent of men. And while just 5 percent of women disagreed with the statement, some 28 percent of men did (Please see exhibit 3).
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