How best to increase women’s participation in the workforce?
Digital fluency is the first step in closing the pay gap because it helps get more women into work
Management teams across Hong Kong celebrated International Women’s Day by recognising their successes and reflected upon what still needs to be done to establish a level playing field in the office.
Unquestionably the field remains uneven. Just 50 per cent of working-aged women are active in the labour force, compared with 76 per cent of men.
On average, men in paid employment today earn US$140 for every US$100 a woman in paid employment earns. In mainland China men are paid US$147 for every US$100 a woman is paid.
On current trends, the pay gap won’t close until 2080 in developed markets, and 2168 in developing markets.
Fixing this inequality matters. An increase in female labour force participation results in faster economic growth. Just by reducing the gap in employment between women and men, the International Labour Organisation estimated that an additional US$1.6 trillion output could be generated.
In everyday terms, that simply means better conditions for people. In China, for example, increasing the proportion of average household income earned by women by 10 per cent also improved girls’ survival rates by 1 percentage point and resulted in more boys and girls staying in school, according to a World Bank report.
So how do we best go about the task of increasing women’s participation in the workforce?
It’s not just about finding a job; it’s about finding a job with a path. Management teams need to create those routes. Employees need to arm themselves with the skills required for future jobs: this means continuous upskilling in digital and tech.
Women need to increase their digital fluency and technology immersion while also honing career strategies that encourage women to aim high, make informed choices and manage their careers proactively.
Digital fluency is the first step in closing the pay gap because it helps get more women into work. Accenture research shows that women who progress faster in careers – leverage digital to get ahead, juggle commitments and manage their careers. Digital fluency enables women to access online courses, network through social media and collaborate with classmates.
In developing markets, digital fluency powers mobile banking and money transfers, for example, both vital to helping women participate more successfully in local markets. Indeed, by increasing digital fluency, nearly 100 million women could be added to the paid workforce, helping to reduce the pay gap by 21 per cent by 2030.
Meanwhile, management teams need to understand the dynamics that attract non-working women back into the workforce. They need to create an environment where high-performing women want to stay with their current employer. These working environments – with an emphasis on flexible working empowered by digital, mentorship programmes, lifelong learning and training, and transparency and benchmarking around salaries – will become competitive differentiators.
In Hong Kong, many of the banks have put in place programmes to try to support working women. Bank of America Merrill Lynch runs an annual regional women’s conference attended by employees from across Asia-Pacific, tackling themes such as work-life flexibility, mentoring and engaging male advocates for women in the workplace. HSBC has a number of mentoring and sponsorship programmes in place to accelerate the development of female talent globally. They also have a number of employee networks to ensure that gender balance is weaved into the way they attract, retain and engage employees. Their largest gender network, Balance, is open to men and women, and now has around 33,000 members in 47 locations across the world. In Hong Kong this network has more than 800 members.
International Women’s Day is one day a year. That does not mean it should be the only day to focus on the role of women in the workforce. It should serve as a reminder that getting the balance right can make a difference.
Chuan Neo Chong, chairwoman, Accenture Greater China