Diversity is good for business, for people’s performance and for a company’s bottom line. With a growing body of research to support this claim, firms should be doing all they can to hire and promote women. But that’s simply not happening.
Vivian Hunt, Managing Partner of UK and Ireland at McKinsey & Company, says businesses need to turbocharge their efforts to reap the rewards. Indeed, her firm’s study into gender equality in the UK shows that even if we are only able to bring every region in the UK up to the level of the fastest improving region, the uplift could be as much as £150 billion in GDP in 2025.
McKinsey’s report, The Power of Parity: Advancing women’s equality in the United Kingdom outlines that there are three big drivers for this to happen – the largest one is creating opportunities for more women to enter the workforce, around 800,000 of them, the second driver is creating the conditions for women to work in the most productive sectors in the UK and the third is enabling women to work an extra 30 minutes a day.
1. Increase the number of women in the workforce
“As the leader of an organisation here in the UK, I can’t grow my client service unless I recruit women at the same or a higher rate than men.
“The prize is big and worth it. Bridging the UK working gender gap could add 840,000 female employees to the workforce. These are women who want to work and who have the skills, but are somehow earning less than their potential suggests.
“Some women can’t reach their potential for many reasons – skills, access, childcare to name a few – and when they can’t participate in work as they’d like, the economy suffers. We know this and yet the needle is not moving fast enough. At the current rate of progress, it will take 34 years for women to reach the equivalent working rate as men. We need more urgency, more pressure and better education.”
2. Encourage more women to join productive sectors
“Some 35% of this extra £150 billion in GDP in 2025 could come from more women working in sectors that bolster the economy. Our data shows that many women are working in low-wage sectors such as public administration, and in low-paid roles such as caring, leisure and administrative positions.
“Women are least represented in the sectors generating more money for the economy – including science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). Helping women move from a low- or moderate-skilled profession to a high-productive sector, though, requires retraining and change. Breaking ground for women will take role models, leaders and educators to encourage cohorts of younger girls into choosing STEM subjects, productive sectors and high-paid, senior leadership positions.”
3. Enable women to spend more time working
“Of the extra GDP, 30% could come from helping women increase their working hours by as little as 25 minutes a day. Allowing people more agility in their working patterns is critical to the economy. Organisations need to start thinking in terms of matching supply and demand. We need more flexibility in the way we work and less fixation on when we work.
“At McKinsey, we have ‘Take Time’, which allows you to work 90% of the time: you take time when you want it. For example, climb the Himalayas in August if you like. Take Mondays off to spend time with your kids. We put less stress on when you work and more on how you perform.”
To capture the economic, social and global opportunity of gender equality, business leaders and policymakers must help rewrite social norms, says Hunt. Drawing on research from the UK she points to seven areas that hold real potential. Action across each of them could help seize the £150 billion reward.
Leadership – for every 100 male managers in the UK, there are 52 female managers. “The lack of women in senior leadership positions across the world signals a structural gap,” Hunt says. “This isn’t about breaking through the glass ceiling; the problem exists right through the pipeline. We need more balance, more diversity and more parity.” As well as interrogating the talent pipeline, what else can businesses do? They can work harder to foster inclusive environments. Organisations need modern policies – such as better return-to-work schemes – that enable diverse groups to thrive.
STEM careers – for every 100 men working in STEM careers in the UK, there are just 13 women. Hunt says: “It’s important to encourage girls into the subjects offering them the best progression. But often, girls don’t even choose STEM subjects when they’re able to.” For instance, one in six women in the UK who receive an A grade for physics at A-level go on to study science at university. The ratio for men is four in six. So girls who love science and are competent choose to study something else.
Childcare and unpaid care work – women spend almost twice as much time on unpaid care work than men. “I have two children,” says Hunt. “Having children is a major change in your trajectory. Young women bear more of that responsibility and feel the biggest change.” More can be done to make care affordable and accessible, she argues. Sharing childcare equally at home would be a good start.
Entrepreneurship – for every 100 male entrepreneurs in the UK, there are 48 female entrepreneurs. Hunt says: “We need more women working in productive industries, but we also need to empower more women to launch businesses at the same ratio as men.” Businesses and government must support female innovators to take risks by offering access to money, contacts and skills.
Politics – despite democracy being a powerful force in the UK, there are just 35 women for every 100 men in elected political office. “Higher performing companies are more diverse in gender, race, ethnicity, culture and experience. Why isn’t this reflected in politics?” asks Hunt. Mentoring programmes would help build a more inclusive political culture, she says.
Social attitudes and mindset – shaping new attitudes and setting better standards requires positive role models and forward-thinking policies. Hunt says: “The government plays a big role, particularly when it comes to sharing childcare. The media can do more to discourage gender stereotyping. Education is the perfect environment to set and shape new social norms.” A package of support across business, government, media and education is needed right now to “move the needle” faster.
Violence against women – almost 30% of women experience violence in their lifetimes. “One in three women experience domestic violence within an intimate relationship in the UK. Violent incidents can knock women off course. These interruptions can disproportionately impact women’s careers,” says Hunt.
Even small gains in each of these seven areas would help boost gender equality – but it will only happen if women – and men – start pushing for it.
When Hunt speaks about gender parity, people listen. She was identified by the Financial Times as one of the ‘European Women to Watch’ and as the 30 most influential people in the City of London. Over 20 years she’s become a powerful spokesperson on racial and gender diversity.
In 1989, Hunt joined the US Peace Corps, working as a midwife and care worker in Senegal. She then became a researcher for management consulting firm Booz, Allen & Hamilton before moving into healthcare. Prior to her latest role, Hunt led McKinsey’s pharmaceutical and medical products strategy in EMEA. Now she heads up the UK and Ireland office for McKinsey & Company and provides strategic advice to leading British firms in the private, public and third sectors.
Hunt’s father had a saying, “As we think, so we speak, and as we speak, so we are”, which has shaped one of her core beliefs: your thoughts and the words you speak matter.
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