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Policies for Change

Government Levers for Enabling Workplace Gender Equality


Achieving workplace gender equality is a complex and worthy goal. While companies have a significant role to play in addressing this, so does public policy. Indeed, striking the right balance between government policy and corporate action will be critical in driving meaningful and sustained workplace change. But what are those public policies that can help enable this change?

The "Policies for change: Government levers for enabling workplace gender equality” paper developed by The Global Institute for Women’s Leadership, King’s College London, supported by Deloitte Global, sets out the findings of an analysis of government policies and regulations in fifty countries and territories. It also includes insights gathered through interviews with 19 human resources and diversity, equity and inclusion leaders from 13 multinational companies headquartered across nine countries, from Mexico to Singapore. Each of these companies is considered a global leader in workplace gender equality and well positioned to identify how policy environments can support them. The analysis and interviews explored the relationship between policy environments that support gender equality and progress in driving gender equality in the workplace, identifying those policy elements that are considered by interviewees to have most effectively enabled change.

Gender pay gap reporting

Requirements around transparent gender pay gap reporting and policies promoting boardroom diversity were seen by interviewees to make a tangible difference. Countries with such regulations are more likely to host companies which champion gender equality. When commenting on gender pay gap reporting, many interviewees pointed to how national reporting requirements had highlighted gender imbalances that may not have otherwise been scrutinsed and kickstarted their internal efforts to address workplace gender equality; they also ensured continued engagement on the subject. Importantly, these requirements elevated gender equality as a leadership priority, increased engagement amongst employees and sparked a race to the top among competitors.

However, while such reporting requirements are seen as a catalyst for change, they also bring challenges. Multinational companies are frustrated by the complexities of providing different sets of data for different reporting regimes (where such regimes exist). Interviewees suggested that a more standardised approach across jurisdictions and indexes would free up resources which could be used in tackling the underlying problems identified. Furthermore, standardising reports would allow multinational companies to be benchmarked against each other more easily, which could drive external pressure from consumers and other stakeholder groups.

Parental leave and care infrastructure and flexibility

Countries whose policies and provisions support work-life balance were also more likely to host companies which are proactive at addressing gender equality. Care infrastructure and more equal parental leave provisions were prominent suggestions for where governments could do more, with these varying in nature across jurisdictions. Women are more likely than men to leave or reduce their paid work to care for children and vulnerable adults (Andrew et al. 2021), and when parental leave is skewed towards the birth parent, that exacerbates this issue. Thus, addressing this through policy was seen as a major lever to drive change. Similarly, the interviews highlighted flexible working as a cornerstone for helping enable work-life balance— though interviewees didn’t see a legal entitlement to flexible working as a key area for government support. Nevertheless, a government requirement to provide flexible working could have a positive impact on individuals with caring responsibilities, especially at companies that do not prioritise diversity and inclusion.

Bringing about lasting change

The degree of interplay between companies, governments and wider society was apparent throughout the interviews and policy analysis. Interviewees said that regulators, investors, customers and employees motivate, encourage, and applaud company efforts to improve workplace gender equality. Yet sometimes the policy environment does not enable such efforts as effectively as it could.

Policy makers have an important role to play in providing a policy environment conducive to making progress on workplace gender equality. This is why the report sets out a set of recommendations for policy makers based on our data analysis and interviews, including:

  1. Introduce gender pay gap and/or gender representation transparency measures in jurisdictions where they do not currently exist.
  2. Adopt global standardised pay gap reporting requirements with guidelines for multinational companies.
  3. Provide adequately paid leave that allows for a fairer distribution of care responsibilities between men and women.
  4. Ensure access to affordable care, for children and vulnerable adults.
  5. Implement policies that support flexible working for employees to balance care responsibilities.

These key recommendations can make a substantive impact on improving gender workplace equality and this report offers the detail, the means, and the motivation to achieve this outcome.

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