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Business leaders call for urgent action to close gender equality gap

13 Mar 2017

Advancing women’s equality could create an extra £150 billion to GDP forecasts in the UK in 2025


 


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Bridging the gender gap could add as much as US$12 trillion (£9.8 trillion) to GDP globally by 2025. In the UK it could increase GDP by billions of pounds and add 840,000 female employees to the workforce. 

Vivian Hunt, Managing Partner UK & Ireland at McKinsey & Company, explained the figures, based on a McKinsey Global Institute report, at the 17th annual student-led London Business School Women in Business Conference. 

“If women – who account for half the world’s population – do not achieve their full economic potential, the global economy will suffer,” said Hunt, whom the Financial Times named one of the ‘City’s most influential people’ this year. 

“This is not a glass-ceiling problem. This is a pipeline problem. The progress we’ve made so far is not good enough. We need to turbocharge our efforts.”

The research highlighted that if women played an identical role to men in the labour market there is potential to add £150 billion to GDP in the UK in 2025. That figure is as much as £45 billion in London alone,” she said. 

Read more on the gender parity pipeline problem

Rachel Barton, Managing Director at Accenture, argued that parity “is not a female issue. It’s a gender issue”. She said that gender equality had reached an inflection point: “We now need to widen the conversation so that as many men are talking about parity as women. Men and women need to lead the movement.”

According to the Accenture Getting to Equal 2017 report, for every US$100 (£82) a woman makes, a man makes US$258 (£211). Barton said three “powerful equalisers” outlined in the report could help close the pay gap between women and men: 

1. Digital fluency: the extent to which people use digital technologies to connect, learn and work
2. Career strategy: the need for women to aim high, make informed choices and manage their careers proactively
3. Tech immersion: the opportunity for women to acquire greater technology and stronger digital skills to advance as quickly as men.

Karalee Close, Partner and Managing Director at the Boston Consulting Group, said that part of the parity problem is the engagement gap that widens as women progress in their careers. 

She said: “When companies get engagement right, everyone benefits. When they don’t, senior women feel the pain.”

She suggested seven areas that could boost female engagement, which included rewriting the rules, supporting women with peer-to-peer connections and holding leaders accountable for results. 

Clare Twelvetrees, Interim CEO at the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, also argued gender inequality was a “huge cost to the global economy”. 

Quoting the World Economic Forum’s forecast that it could take 170 years to eradicate the disparity in pay and employment opportunities for men and women, she asked: “Why wait 170 years for parity?” 

Her experiences with the foundation, including working with women in rural India, sharpened her appeal to people at the conference: “I carry images of hardworking women showing dedication and commitment travelling to rural markets in India to sell their produce for very little profit. These women are potential engines of growth.” 

 


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The foundation has a pioneering mentoring scheme to help women in developing markets, she said. It means that women who have ideas but are held back by barriers such as lack of access to business skills, technology and finance are paired with mentors around the world. 

“We match women with male and female mentors. They spend 12 months working to achieve key business goals. Many mentees go on to become mentors.”