It will take another 100 years to achieve gender equality: studies shed new light

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  • On the first International Women’s Day since the pandemic spread globally, we look at the state of gender equality  and how it’s projected to be following this global health crisis.
  • Among the key issues in the past year has been gender-based violence, gender pay gap and gender discrimination in the workplace permeating even in virtual interactions.
  • A new global study carried out in 28 countries by Ipsos shows that people acknowledge gender imbalances but there is poor willingness and urgency to address these issues. 

Online respondents in 28 countries were asked to list the four or five most important issues facing women that will be necessary to be addressed after the Covid-19 pandemic.

The respondents acknowledged the need for more support for women and girls who face violence or abuse but, while this is an issue getting attention in many countries, respondents in Turkey (56 percent), South Africa (52 percent) and Peru (51 percent) are much more likely than others to prioritise support for women and girls who face violence or abuse than the global country average. In contrast, this is seen as less of a priority in Russia (24 percent), the Netherlands (23 percent) and Italy (21 percent).

READ MORE | Abuse increases during lockdowns: Women stuck between 2 pandemics, coronavirus and gender-based violence 

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Unemployment due to the pandemic was also listed as a key concern but this issue unduly affects women. According to the survey, 69 percent women in South Africa are worried about keeping their jobs compared to 58 percent of men.

This is possibly due to the much-discussed issue that disproportionately more women than men lost their jobs in 2020, as a result of the effect of the pandemic on economic certainty and the stability and/or growth of businesses.   

The Conversation reports that during lockdowns many working women are being forced to reduce working hours – or to stop working altogether – due to the increased demands of child care.

Citing a Mckinsey study, the publication says “more than one in four women are considering downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce completely” because of this. 

READ MORE | Women risk losing decades of workplace progress due to Covid-19 – here’s how companies can prevent that

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Overall, respondent to the Ipsos survey think gender equality will either stay the same or worsen after the pandemic. A total of 52 percent of those surveyed think that gender equality will revert to what it was before the pandemic. 

Almost a fifth in Turkey, Germany, Poland and Spain think that men and women will become less equal. In South Africa, 9 percent expect less equality and 14 percent more equality, but like the rest of the world, 55 percent think that things will remain just the same as before.

In Saudi Arabia, big changes are expected and almost four in every ten (38 percent) say that a new era of more gender equality is on the way.

ipsos south africa

Seugnette van Wyngaard, Head of 1st for Women Insurance, highlights the PwC’s Executive directors: Practices and remuneration trends report 2020, saying the gender pay gap for large-cap JSE companies stands at 45 percent, dropping to 39 percent for mid-cap companies and 25 percent for small-cap companies.

And adds that, when looking through an industry lens, the difference in the gender pay gap ranges from 7 percent in the financial services industry to as much as 34 percent in the real estate industry.

READ MORE | How Covid-19 puts women at more risk than men in Gauteng

With the existing rate of progress, the Global Gender Gap Report 2020 predicts it will take another 100 years to achieve gender equality. In an effort to empower employees to identify and challenge bias head-on, the Lean In organisation has volunteered the following advice to help combat the biases women face at work includes:

1. Guard against microaggressions: this refers to daily discrimination and is usually directed towards people in junior positions. Encourage staff to be more conscious of their words and tone when speaking to colleagues. 

2. Stop Interrupting! How many times do men interrupt women compared to interrupting their male colleagues? The answer is almost three times more often. 

3. Meeting dynamics: In a meeting room situation, men tend to sit front and centre, while women take positions to the side or the back. Make sure that there is sufficient room and encourage staff to move around so that the gender distribution in the room is more equal and women are placed in positions where they feel confident to speak up. 

4. Confident women are labelled “aggressive”: Old, ingrained stereotypes mean that women are traditionally expected to be agreeable and a forceful stance on a sticking discussion point sometimes results in women being viewed as aggressive or pushy in the workplace. Employers and co-workers should stop to ask themselves what their reaction would be if the same comments or viewpoint was expressed by a male counterpart before reacting with a knee-jerk response. 

5. Get women on boards: The JSE remains heavily weighted towards male non-executive directors at 71 percent. This indicates little progress from the previous year when there were 70 percent male and 30 percent female directors. There is no shortage of women qualified to represent companies in the boardroom. Mentorship programmes at the C-suite level should be encouraged wherever possible. 

6. Educate, educate, educate: Often staff and even management are not entirely aware of their own, ingrained biases. Run workplace training to emphasise the benefits of gender equality, including connection with and access to customers, diversity of ideas, and supplier diversity.

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