Today talent is playing a new role in global economies. In the past, a countries competitiveness was traditionally based on its natural resources. But to be competitive in the 21st Century, governments and organisations must now focus on their people and developing talent within their borders. This is particularly critical as populations age and shortages of skilled talent emerge. Similarity, companies can no longer rely on industrial-age strategies to stay competitive, especially that rate at which market leaders topple and the level of competitive intensity have both double on the last 20 years. Now more than 85% of corporate value creation reply on the intangible assets of people, brand and intellectual property.

According to the Global Gender Gap Report 2020, it will take another 100 years to achieve gender equality based on the current rate of progress. This prediction has been widely used as a shock therapy to push governments, NGOs, investors, and companies into action. In the face of the Covid-19 pandemic and economic crisis, efforts will have to be doubled if we are to avoid losing another 10 years to achieve gender equality. Based on past experience, economic slowdowns not only disproportionately affect women, but also trigger gender equality topics to slip down governmental and corporate agendas. Women represent 39% of the global workforce but accounted for 54% of job losses as of May 2020. Furthermore, women are over-represented in sectors which are most heavily hit by the pandemic, such as hospitality or the food services industries, further exacerbating inequalities.

Even before the Pandemic, the diversity issue has proven to be exceedingly difficult to solve with the underrepresentation of women in the most senior levels of organizations. In 2017, among companies listed on the S&P/TSX 60 Index, women occupied only 28% of board seats, 18% of executive officer positions, and 3% of CEO positions, this is despite the fact that upwards of 90% of companies report making millions of dollars in investments in gender diversity programs to help women advance and widespread advances in women’s education.

Despite our current state, we are making progress. Many successful companies do regard gender diversity as a source of competitive advantage. For some, it is a matter of social justice, corporate social responsibility (The Walt Disney Company), or even regulatory compliance (Iceland’s new equal pay law). For others, it is essential to their growth strategy (SAP, J&J,). It makes sense that a diverse and inclusive employee base with a range of approaches and perspectives would be more competitive in a globalized economy. A small but increasing number of companies have recognized an opportunity to go even further, reframing gender diversity as an enabler of two of the foremost goals for CEOs: growth and value creation (BlackRock, Inc., Accenture Ireland, Royal Bank of Canada) based on the D&I Index 2020.The numbers support it too, inclusive cultures outperform the market in terms of financial performance and innovation.

Studies have repeatedly shown that increasing diversity is not only the right thing to do for an organization’s culture, but it also leads to better business outcomes. Increased diversity leads to smarter decision-making, contributes to an organization’s bottom line, and powers innovation, among other benefits. Furthermore, Companies with gender-diverse boards generate a higher return on equity than those without; and Companies with gender-diverse boards outperform those with no women in terms of share price performance during times of crisis or volatility.

However, gender bias is pervasive at work and in organisations, creating inequalities at every stage of the employment cycle. Gender-based stereotypes affect which candidates get recruited for certain roles and which do not, which candidates get selected for those roles and why, how salaries are negotiated, how managers provide feedback to their employees, and which employees receive career development opportunities and career encouragement, and which do not. Each of these factors compounds across women’s careers, producing and sustaining gender inequality from recruitment to selection to promotion.

Decades of research has made one thing clear: gender biases are nearly always present in employment decisions, subtly influencing our assessments about who is the ‘right’ or ‘best’ person for the job.

Since leadership shapes how organisations operate, they can contribute to gender parity by hardwiring diversity into those value-adding roles that have the biggest potential impact on our outcomes, and on the customers and society. Ensuring diversity of mindset and approach is not only the right thing to do, but it also makes good business sense by bringing different perspectives to the table, and ultimately delivering solutions that better solve all our customers’ problems.

Governments can play a decisive role in accelerating progress toward parity through legislation, fiscal measures, programmatic change, and public–private partnerships. Consider just three examples shared by McKinsey & Company 2019:

In Singapore, the women’s labour-force-participation rate doubled from 28% in 1970 to 58% in 2016, reflecting a range of policies helping women to achieve work-life balance, including paid maternity leave, paid and unpaid childcare leave, increased tax relief, tax rebates, and childcare subsidies.

In Japan, which offers the most generous paid paternity leave in the world, very few men took advantage, because they felt it was unacceptable. Yet after former labor minister Yasuhisa Shiozaki declared himself an “Ikuboss”—someone who values “Ikumen,” or men playing their part in caring for children—participation in the labor-ministry program has risen from under 14% to over 40%.

In Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau named the country’s first gender-balanced cabinet in 2015, which created significant momentum toward gender parity. According to the UN Global Compact Network in Canada, the fifth SDG was “the single most acted-on SDG in Canada in 2017.”

Integrated D&I Strategic Framework

In 2019, I conducted a global research study of over 100 organisations speaking to D&I Leaders and their teams in technology, healthcare, higher education, manufacturing, resources, construction, and tourism industries and developed the Integrated D&I Strategic Framework on recommended practices.

Final thoughts

To understand why it is so critical that women play a key role in building and rebuilding economies around the world, its important to consider the rise of talent as a dominant business issue. In the digital knowledge economy, human capital replaces natural resources for growth, so businesses and countries that will lead in this century will be the ones that are best able to harness the innovation and creativity of their people. Women are undoubtedly a growing force on the talent pool, but the real power comes from women & men working together and using their experience to solve complex challenging problems, and stop the gender backslide.