Achieving workplace gender equality is a complex and worthy goal. Deeply embedded in our societies, inequality is often reinforced by public policy and in some places, even inscribed in law. Many factors need to be considered to effect meaningful change, including striking the right balance between government policy and corporate action. Deloitte’s annual ‘Women @ Work: A Global Outlook’ report is arguably the most comprehensive analysis yet, exploring the role of policy environments in supporting companies to address workplace gender equality, as well as pointing to ways companies can address some of these ongoing issues. What is evident is the importance of ensuring a coordinated effort, otherwise outcomes will be well short of what is needed to improve the lives of billions and remedy the significant economic and social costs that directly result from inequality.
Based on an analysis of government policies and provisions in fifty countries and territories, this report indicates that there is a relationship between how supportive the policy environment is and the prevalence of companies which are proactive in addressing the issue. This relationship suggests that government policies are key to driving action and/or supporting company efforts.
To further explore this issue, interviews were conducted with nineteen HR and DEI leaders at thirteen companies currently ranked as high performers leading the drive for workplace gender equality. Headquartered across nine countries – from Mexico to Singapore – and operating in a range of sectors, each company is considered a global leader in workplace gender equality and well positioned to identify how policy environments can support them. Overwhelmingly and with striking unanimity, the interviewees highlighted several key areas where government policy environments can make a difference to workplace gender equality.
The transparency of 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. Many interviewees pointed to how national reporting requirements had kickstarted their internal efforts to address workplace gender equality and had 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. What’s more, reporting highlights discrepancies across genders that may have not been scrutinised otherwise.
However, while such reporting is seen as a catalyst, a major barrier exists. 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 problems underlying any gaps. 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.
Countries whose policies and provisions support work-life balance were also more likely to host companies which are pro-active 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.
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.
Based on the data analysis and interviews, a set of recommendations for policy makers were developed and included the following:
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.