By Candice Eaton Gaul, Diversity and Inclusion Leader at RSM International

Recently at a social event I was asked the typical small talk question, “So what do you do for a living?” and in answer I explained the role I have at RSM International is to lead diversity and inclusion. In response, I was immediately asked if I get tired of talking about gender related issues, with the suggestion that perhaps gender has been discussed for long enough that it can make room for something else?

My response was that gender equality should remain one of the primary focuses of any diversity and inclusion strategy because gender inequality affects roughly half of the people in the room, or at least, half of the people who would be in the room if gender equality was no longer an issue.

I further explained that to my mind, if gender equality can’t be achieved in education institutions, or communities, we will not achieve it in corporate environments, industries or public sectors. Furthermore, if gender equality can’t be achieved given it applies to half of the population, how can we expect to ever be successful in equality for minority groups in other areas?

To highlight the gap in equality, I put forward three questions accompanied by newsworthy publications and stories from 2021:

1. How can we expect economic and social policies, as well as the frameworks that make them possible, to be representative of half of the population if these statistics are acceptable?

Eight countries elected or swore in their first woman head of state or government. It is worth noting that five of the ten most populated countries, China, Mexico, Nigeria, Russia, and the United States, have never had a woman serve as president or head of state. UN Women published that “As of 1 September 2021, there are 26 women serving as Heads of State and/or Government in 24 countries.”

2. How can we expect corporate policies and frameworks to be representative of half of the population if these statistics are acceptable?

In 2021, the German Government passed a bill requiring publicly listed entities to have at least one woman on their board, Germany’s family and justice ministries made a joint statement that the law impacted approximately 70 companies. Of those 70 companies, 30 had no women on their management boards.

Similarly, at the time Nasdaq published the requirement that companies publicly traded through Nasdaq were required to have at least one woman on their board of directors,75% did not meet this criteria. In other words, of 3,000 Nasdaq listed companies, only 750 had one woman or more on their board.

3. If we have been speaking about gender equality for years, why are new career entrants so unequal in regard to gender representation?

The Global Gender Gap Report 2021 published by the World Economic Forum outlined alarming statistics regarding new and disruptive industries and sectors. New industries and sectors typically attract younger and highly skilled people. There seems to be a societal expectation that these non-traditional sectors and industries are more gender equal as they do not need to transform demographics or to cast off a history of gender inequality.

Sadly, this is not the case. It seems that even newer industries and sectors are far from equal, possibly indicating that inequality is deep rooted and the progress made so far is insignificant compared to what needs to be achieved. As an example, the Global Gender Gap Report 2021 stated “Cloud Computing, women make up 14% of the workforce; in Engineering, 20%; and in Data and AI, 32%.” These statistics suggest deep rooted inequality in society and education, that the efforts of equality to date have had little impact on the youth and career entrants over the last 10 years.

The purpose of International Women’s Day is to serve as a reminder of the responsibility we all share to actively call out discrimination on the basis of gender, and any other unfair discrimination. It is valuable to spend some time on this day to reflect on what this means, and where we have failed as individuals, communities and societies in the past so that we can right those wrongs.

Until corporate entities achieve gender equality, we should all voice our concerns and our own commitment to creating a gender equal world. Together, we can create a fairer and more equal work environment. In line with this year’s theme, we should all be asking ourselves what responsibility we have as individuals to help break the bias.

This International Women’s Day, RSM International is encouraging everyone to show appreciation to those who help to break the bias every day. Check out our LinkedIn page this week where our RSM community will recognise people who have been a mentor, sponsor or champion to them during their career.