Gender equality is not a numbers game

International Women’s Day reminds us all to uphold progress made towards gender equality, where it’s integration – not balance – between work-life. It’s a soft skill where it caters to people in different seasons of their lives.

There are a lot of platitudes when it comes to gender diversity, gender equality and a gendered glass ceiling.

On average, women’s participation in education and the workforce has increased considerably alongside neoliberal trends in policies worldwide. Yet, the workforce gender gap – which disfavours women – and it hasn’t changed in the past 20 years. According to the No Ceilings report published by the Clinton Foundation, the percentage of women in the workforce is stagnated at a global rate of 55%.

That inadvertently results in lesser women in the pipeline, and a talent pool that is less gender diverse. Globally, just about 18% of firms have a woman in the C-Suite. And while the number of Fortune 500 women CEOs has increased over the years, they currently make up barely 4.2%.

Capabilities versus gender

Why stop at or put a number to gender equality when we should be looking at women through their capabilities, catering to the seasons in their lives.

Alongside quantity, the quality of women’s work matters. This refers to the need to address gendered occupational segregation, and create good quality careers and work environments. Once culture and mind-set are framed by a company, women will be aligned to their passion and purpose in the phases of life and careers.

This is where work-life integrates. Integration is soft skills, cater to people at different stages in their lives. Integration is not about balance as the latter is a statistical check. Integration is about employees’ passion points. Passion points within their careers, families, as business owners to work part-time and run a business or take a sabbatical to write a book.

And when domestic challenges come into their lives we would rather support them and work through it with them.

It’s the season in their lives – sometimes it is hot, sometimes it’s cold and sometimes it is just right. A company’s culture ideally should mirror the passion, purpose of women/men within their life stages. International Women’s Day reminds us all to uphold progress made towards gender equality, and recognise differences in women and people who come into the workforce.

Leadership roles will fit different people at different times in the life cycle – not too hot or not too cold, when the time is right. Reducing gender equality to mere statistics downplays the significance of entrenched social divisions and structural limitations.

Statistics ideally should not be the end-point.

The writer is Jeffrey Seah, the country chair of VivaKi, CEO for Starcom Mediavest Group Southeast Asia.

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