OPN_190523-Emirati-women-(Read-Only) Emirati woman
Placing women in positions of decision making will speed up all the transitions the corporate landscape needs. Image Credit: Agency

Women continue to be constrained when it comes to economic empowerment and advancement, due to a variety of social, legal and institutional barrier.

The double burden of work and domestic responsibilities; gender stereotypes around women in the workplace; which sectors they choose; lack of female role models; and lack of opportunities to network. One of the most effective ways of eliminating these constraints is by changing things at leadership levels.

Women’s underrepresentation in leadership limits the presence of female voices in decision-making and deprives girls and young women of strong role models. While far from the only cause, women’s underrepresentation in leadership also contributes to related inequalities, such as the gender pay gap and differences in wealth and economic security.

Addressing gender inequalities in leadership can help tackle gender imbalances 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 1st Plenary of G20 EMPOWER, if all countries matched their best-in-region country in progress towards gender parity, $12 trillion could be added to the world GDP in 2025.

Looking at the UAE, the country has made great strides in bridging the gender gap. Under Vision 2021, the UAE aims to become one of the 25 leading countries in terms of gender equality, supported by initiatives such as the UAE Gender Balance Council and the UAE Gender Inequality Index. To date, it has demonstrated notable progress in its efforts, having advanced 23 places in the UN Development Programme’s 2019 Gender Inequality Index and ranking first in the Arab region.

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Expanding the boundaries

We have also seen the creation of the UAE Cabinet’s landmark legislation dedicated to ensuring equal pay for men and women in the private sector. First introduced in April of 2018, the legislation has recently come to fruition and a federal decree issued. In August 2020, the UAE became the first Arab country to grant paid paternal leave for those in the private sector, in service of the gender equity movement.

Along with governments, businesses and financial institutions have a role to play in accelerating female leadership. At Standard Chartered, for example, we have set ourselves a new target to have 35 per cent female representation in senior roles by 2024 as part of our Sustainability Aspirations for People.

Fourteen of our biggest markets have female CEOs at the helm, including in China, Hong Kong, India and the UAE, and I am proud to be one of them. With a workforce close to 90,000 collaborating across 59 markets, our diversity is a powerful asset.

A global push

However, despite the increased attention and efforts towards policy reform, we still have a long way to go to achieve gender equality. This is why the 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 by taking ambitious stands on the topic of measurement.

G20 EMPOWER will release its final recommendations to G20 Heads of States; but its community of business leaders across 28 countries is already taking action to progress on measurement, without which gender inequalities in women's economic representation and leadership positions can't be tracked or addressed.

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

Companies need to set clear, quantifiable diversity goals, measure their progress over time, and foster transparency by reporting their progress publicly. Perhaps most important, these organizations should implement the use of KPIs 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 Implementation of 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 requires leadership commitment, a tailored approach that is based on the unique needs of the organization, 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 measuring pay, recruitment, retention, advancement, and representation, as these will also help organizations assess where they are today and where they need to change.

Governments could also support such efforts by incentivizing companies that measure and progress these indicators, supporting them to accelerate the advancement of women as business leaders in the private sector.

As a representative of the UAE of G20 EMPOWER, 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.