A round-up of Kearney's global Gender Equality report

08 March 2021 Consultancy.eu 4 min. read

Today is International Women’s Day. Building up to the occasion, Kearney ran a global study on gender equality in the workplace. A roundup of the key findings.

This is a Women’s Day like no other: set against the backdrop of a global economic crisis that has disproportionately affected women on the one hand, but has rapidly advanced the gender equality agenda on the other.

Women-dominated sectors were among the worst hit by Covid-19, giving rise to what many are labeling a “she-cession.” That said, 2020 was also a year when female leaders in New Zealand and Finland famously became the most proficient managers of a global health crisis, while the United States elected its first ever female Vice President.

Global gender diversity numbers

For Kearney, more female leadership forms the core of gender equality. “Diverse leadership can have a trickle-down effect. It can lead to more diverse innovation and a more diverse workforce,” explained Beth Sehgal, Global Director of Diversity & Inclusion at Kearney. That said, “It shouldn’t have taken a crisis to realize the value of female leadership.”

Kearney examined gender parity figures across key markets globally, for an overview of female leadership ratios in both the public and private sectors. The results show that the world is still a “long way from gender-diverse leadership” according to Sehgal.

On average, female representation in government and private sector boards worldwide is less than a third at 32%. This dips even further – below 30% – when counting just the private sector. From a country perspective, France and South Africa lead the pack respectively in the private and public sphere.

Countries with most female representation on private sector boards

Around 44% of board members in the CAC 40 – the biggest companies on the French stock exchange – are women, and every firm on the index has at least three female board members. Symbolic in gender representation on the one hand, France also embodies the continual issue of corporations doing the bare minimum to satisfy regulations.

Only six of the CAC 40 companies have women in senior board positions, including C-suite executives. “Companies can meet gender quotas by hiring women to more peripheral board positions rather than genuinely altering their corporate culture by promoting internal female employees to more senior titles,” noted Sehgal.

Nevertheless, the country exceeds other key markets such as the UK (36%), Australia (34%), Germany (32.5%), Spain (29.8%), the US (29.8%) and South Africa (28.5%). At the other end of the spectrum are India and Singapore, which lurk around a dismal 17% female board representation.

Countries with most female representation in government

When it comes to gender diversity in government, South Africa leads the way with 44% female representation in parliament. A key driving force here, per the researchers, is a quota that reserves a share for women in the South African parliament – which aligns with “a forward-thinking attitude toward gender diversity in African public life.”

In a close second is Spain, with 42% female representation in parliament – the largest share of women representatives in any European legislature. Australia, France, the UK and Germany all hover at or above 30%, while the US trails at 27%. Once again, India is the least gender diverse country, with only 14% women in parliament.

Looking ahead

On the whole, Kearney suggests that diversity numbers are going in a promising direction, but are far from satisfactory in their current form. Sehgal highlights the concrete financial benefits that come from more female leadership, which makes the issue of equality “not just a societal argument but an economic one, and a strong incentive for companies to drive gender diversity across their ranks.”

These factors should give impetus to the diversity agenda, although there are worrying factors too. The disproportionate impact of Covid-19 actually risks a regression in female representation across sectors. “Just maintaining workplace gender advancement at pre-pandemic levels in the post-Covid world is going to take a concerted effort.”

Many governments are mandating their largest corporations to be more equitable, which should uphold the cause through the challenging period. At any rate, the likes of Jacinda Ardern, Kamala Harris, Finland’s Sanna Marin and Taiwan’s Tsai Ing-wen, among several other pioneers – provide cause for celebration and unity this Women’s Day.