It makes "good business sense" for companies to invest in gender parity to boost the global recovery from the pandemic because firms that are more diverse tend to outperform those that are not, according to a virtual meeting at the World Economic Forum on Monday.
Kevin Sneader, global managing partner at the management consultancy McKinsey & Company, said companies that have a more diverse workforce are 25 per cent more likely to outperform those that do not.
“It’s worth reminding ourselves that diversity does connect with performance,” Mr Sneader told the Placing Gender Parity at the Heart of the Recovery panel, hosted by Mina Al-Oraibi, The National’s editor-in-chief.
“If we look across the labour force and think about what's needed to respond to the challenges that we've got now, it's good business to make that investment in parity and not to think it’s optional – it’s not optional.”
The WEF panel session focused on the challenges women have faced since the start of the Covid crisis, including what the Forum calls a “double-double shift” of at least 20 hours per week of additional work for women at home.
Women’s careers have been more adversely affected than men’s during the coronavirus pandemic, with female jobs 1.8 times more vulnerable to this crisis than men’s jobs globally, at 5.7 per cent versus 3.1 per cent, according to McKinsey.
“Statistics show that while women make up 39 per cent of the global workforce, they've accounted for 54 per cent of total job losses,” Ms Al-Oraibi told delegates at the session, quoting McKinsey data.
“Informal workers experienced a 60 per cent fall in income in the first month of the pandemic. And according to the ILO (International Labour Organisation), 714 million women are in informal employment, and most likely are the most vulnerable.”
Mr Sneader said the gender parity setback women now face as a result of the Covid crisis is “very serious” and "dramatic".
“We're really at a crossroads now,” he said. “After decades of progress, and let's be clear, the progress has been slow … we now see very a significant impact on multiple dimensions.
“Women's jobs are 20 per cent more at risk simply because of the sectors that have been hardest hit in this moment - think accommodation, hospitality, and retail. That's a huge setback."
Michael Neidorff, chairman, president and chief executive of the healthcare multinational, Centene Corporation, said two of his board members are women and that from the top down the message is clear: “you can achieve it if you’re women in this company”.
With 75 per cent of the company’s workforce made up of women, as well as 55 per cent at director level and above, he said the company does not have specific programmes to hire women because “we want everybody in this company to know that somebody is in the job because they’re the best person for the job”.
However, he conceded that he had achieved his company's healthy gender balance through some of the flexible measures put in place to attract women to the company.
These include offering more flexibility for women with children during the pandemic and a child development centre that not only offers childcare but tutoring as well.
The company also offers “robust” leadership inclusion programmes.
“What's important is to have these programmes in place and maintain them. And I think we'd like to be the example that it can be done and it is being done,” Mr Neidorff said.
Putting policies in place to help women during Covid is something Egypt has prioritised, according to the country’s minister of International cooperation, Rania Al-Mashat.
When the nation’s workers were suddenly forced to work from home at the start of the pandemic, training was offered to enhance women’s digital skills to help them cope with the change while a decree was issued to allow women with children under the age of 12 to take leave.
“This was done in legislation,” said Ms Al-Mashat. “So policymaking was quite important in formulating that.”
“If we move towards parity, GDP (gross domestic product) globally goes up by $13 trillion. And that is a big number. And given where we are today, that extra addition to GDP and to productivity is quite important. Women's participation in the economy is macro critical. So it's no longer just the number, but it's actually an increase in GDP and an increase in productivity."
Mr Sneader said retention will be the big issue going forward, because a quarter of senior American women in the labour force are now considering stepping out of their roles because of the crisis.
"Eighty per cent of the 1.1 million who dropped out of the US workforce in September alone were women. That is an enormous cost to business,” Mr Sneader said.
"Think about the investments made in training and developing people. To lose that talent, it's almost unthinkable from an economic point of view.”
Some of the things needed to achieve gender parity also make sense for all employees, he added, such as family-friendly policies, childcare and rethinking how performance reviews are done
"I absolutely reject the notion that there's a trade-off here … that we're trading off a green recovery for gender parity recovery, or for just a plain economic recovery - this is all connected, we need to move forward in all fronts,” Mr Sneader said.