Gender Parity Mini-Series

Gender Parity Mini-Series, Brought to You by HBA London

Hello and welcome to the Gender Parity Mini-series, brought to you by HBA London, where we reflect on:

  • the state of gender parity at home and in the workplace
  • what progress we have made
  • what remains to be done

Is this a great time to be a girl?
This series came about after the UN released a report in March 2020, which found that a shocking, almost 90 percent of people, men and women, hold some form of bias against females. This survey analysed data from 75 countries and found new clues to the invisible barriers women face in achieving equality, particularly in the workplace. Can women ever break through the so-called ‘glass ceiling’? There are differences between countries, of course, for example, in Zimbabwe, only 0.27 percent of the population reported not having experienced bias compared to 72 percent in Andorra. Additionally, in politics, half of the world’s men and women feel that men make better political leaders, with reports of up to 55 percent in China, 39 percent in the U.S. and 27 percent in New Zealand. A comparison of salaries reveals that women are not only paid less than men but are also much less likely to be in executive positions. Indeed, 40 percent of people overall and 25 percent of people in the UK, thought men made better business executives. 

These findings come in 2020, as we mark the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (Beijing+25) which called on world leaders to meet a set of agreed global targets on gender equality. However, the results of the UN survey show that, despite years of steady progress in closing the equality gap between genders, we are still nowhere close to where we anticipated we'd be, particularly when it comes to everyday perceptions of women. The numbers show that, whilst there have been improvements in some countries, in others the gender inequality gap has grown. Now, the UN agency is encouraging governments to employ new policies to change these discriminatory attitudes by raising awareness of this disparity. 

A large proportion of people don’t believe women make great leaders. This is somewhat surprising, as especially during COVID-19, nations, where women were in power, showed better responses to the pandemic thus leading to fewer deaths. Female leaders stood up early and informed the country of the severity of the situation. Investigations on the impact of female leadership during the pandemic have found that female-led countries locked down approximately 25 deaths earlier than male-led countries. Although economic literature often perceives women as being more risk-averse, evidence from the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic suggests otherwise. Female leaders chose to lock down early, thus facing a bigger risk of negative economic outcomes, as compared to their male leader equivalents. Why is this? Some have suggested it is down to placing greater value on people’s health and wellbeing and the greater good, a traditionally female trait. Ironically, countries that followed this path have typically also seen less of an economic hit than countries that tried to straddle both approaches. 

Unfortunately, despite this success, a study undertaken since these events found that, although female leaders being lauded for dealing with the pandemic, stances towards them have not improved. Only 52 percent of people across a number of wealthy countries felt comfortable with a woman as head of their government. Research company Kantar reported no change in attitudes in its Reykjavik Index for leadership when people were asked if men and women were equally suited to leadership roles in politics and business. Moreover, Michelle Harrison, CEO of Kantar’s public division and the index co-founder, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that, despite having made enormous progress since the 1950s, there is no evidence suggesting we are in an era of change. She strongly believes it is the opposite, warning that the pandemic could push women into more traditional roles. Once the pandemic eases sufficiently for employees to return to their offices, women are more likely to continue working from home because they take on most domestic responsibilities. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, executive director of UN Women, said that there is a danger that offices end up being male-dominated places as women are more likely to opt to work from home.

Given these findings on the potential stalling of gender parity progress and uncertainty around the impact of COVID-19, we engaged with a number of HBA London members and collected their thoughts on managing work-life balance, on behaviours and experiences in the workplace, and their thoughts on gender parity initiatives for the office and society. We hope this will spark further conversations among our members and beyond. The links to the left will take you to each of the three mentioned sections, all accompanied by video interviews with our members.