In 2015, every United Nations member state made the commitment to ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership. This builds on previous international commitments, like the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action. The rationale is not just equity, fairness, and rights in representation, but also because it makes for stronger governance, and better economic outcomes.
The diversity dividend is well-documented. In the private sector, more women in senior managerial positions, and on boards, correlates with an increased return on investment. In governance bodies, gender balance correlates with increased emphasis on long-term growth drivers, like environmental sustainability, education, and health.
So, with such a strong case for gender balance, what’s the current state of play? One in four parliamentarians is now female. Only one in five speakers of parliament, or government ministers, is a woman. And less than 7% of country leaders are women. In the private sector, almost one-third of companies globally have no women at all in board positions.
A new index provides some insight. In a survey of 10,000 respondents in 2019, more than half expressed discomfort with women as leaders in both corporate and political life. So, with progress this slow, and challenges persisting, what works?
Research reveals that temporary special measures and gender quotas are the strongest means to level the playing field. Three-quarters of countries in the top fifty for women’s political representation have some kind. And women who benefit from quotas are just as qualified as men.
In the private sector, women’s representation on boards has increased significantly with the introduction of quotas. You can check your country’s record on the Corporate Women Directors International website.
So, what can you do to help meet your country’s commitment to women’s participation and leadership and decision-making?
First, ask for the data, so you know the current state of women’s representation in your country. Check the Parline Open Source database of the Inter-Parliamentary Union.
Second, you can promote your government’s commitment to SDG5, and encourage your colleagues to do the same.
Third, you can support the adoption of temporary special measures and quotas. Enforcement is, of course, the critical next step.
Fourth, make your parliament a gender-sensitive workplace by advocating for family-friendly on-site childcare, toilet facilities, nursing rooms, and paid parental leave, so all parliamentarians, both women and men, can fulfill family responsibilities.
Finally, you can commit today to act as a mentor, sponsor, and guide, to help ensure more women run for office.
It’s time to act. What will you commit to today?