An introduction to gender equality
“Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls” is the definition of SDG5, the fifth of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Gender equality is a wide and complex topic that has a major impact on everyone from school to work, from public to private life.
There are huge differences in the types of inequalities faced by women in different parts of the world – from political representation to domestic burdens and child marriage.
For example, it is estimated that 650 million women alive today were married as children and still 33 000 girls become child brides every day, especially in the poorest regions of the earth.
However there is not a country, even among the wealthiest and most developed ones, that has achieved complete gender equality.
Nearly 60% of world’s women work in the informal economy, domestic and care work or unreported employment, which puts them at greater risk of falling into poverty.
According to The Women, Business and the Law 2021 report, only 10 countries out of 187 give women equal legal work rights as men.
It means that just these ten countries scored 100 points on eight indicators – from receiving a pension to freedom of movement – while nearly 80% of the nations totalled less than 90 points.
From a political perspective, the statistics are even worse: the UN stated that women representation is just 25% in national parliaments and 36% in local governments.
In addition to these evident inequalities, women bear additional household burdens during the pandemic and lockdowns increased by 30% domestic violence rates in some countries.
The coronavirus outbreak exacerbated existing inequalities for women and girls across every sphere, from health and economy to security and social protection.
All people – men, women or others – have to work towards the achievement of gender equality because it is not only a fundamental human right but a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable society.
Every person can contribute to SDG5, from the private sphere to the professional environment and the public one, starting from the privileged and the ones in power.
Here at GründerAtelier, having young companies as our primary interlocutor and being a private company ourselves, we are very keen on what entrepreneurs and managers can do to address this fundamental challenge.
Many things should be done in the work field and we will give an insight into the topic in the paragraphs below, before adding some practical actions one should take into her/his/their daily lives, starting from scratch for a truly equal world.
Gender equality in the workplace
According to the World Economic Forum (WEF) website, despite efforts to improve gender equality in the workplace, women still earn considerably less than their male colleagues, with the global pay gap between the sexes standing at 50% in 2020.
In addition to that, women remain under-represented at the senior level, even in those countries where the pay gap is lower.
This is, however, also due to a lack of self-confidence in female professionals. In fact women, generally speaking, tend to be more self-critical and let their doubts often take over, compared to their male counterparts, and this is reflected in their career paths.
For example, a 2014 Hewlett Packard report stated that men apply for a job when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 100% of them.
Cate Luzio, an entrepreneur and women advocate from New York, suggests to her customers to keep a diligent record of professional – but also personal – accomplishments over time, to improve confidence and build a strong personal brand.
These kinds of suggestions, however, even if very useful to break down internal barriers, will not be enough until external ones persist.
For example, especially in male-dominated industries, gender inequities can be inherent in informal recruitment processes.
But how can managers and entrepreneurs understand if the companies they lead are really treating equally people of every gender and in which areas they can improve?
There are some general indicators that can be used to measure the equality level inside a company and the WEF provided a list of good habits for employers.
8 indicators to measure the level of gender equality inside a company
The following are some of the variables most commonly used to measure the level of gender equality inside a company, listed by Our Watch, a leader Australian organization that works for women rights:
- Ratio of men to women in the workforce, overall and by teams.
- Ratio of men to women in leadership and management positions, including board, executive, senior and middle management level.
- Ratio of male and female new hires and internal promotions, by level and department.
- Average salary gap between female and male staff members across the organisation and by department.
- Comparison of male and female staff and managers who use flexible work arrangements.
- Comparison of male and female staff who use and return from parental leave with continued employment for 12 months.
- Changes in staff perception of workplace culture as measured by annual staff survey.
- Reported incidence of sex-based discrimination and harassment
Checking these indicators is very important to see if a workplace is really equal and what areas need improvement.
Managers and HRs can also administer questionnaires on employees’ perception of gender equality inside the company to see if the data are reflected by people’s feelings, in order to take proper actions if they are not.
Suggestions to improve gender equality in the workplace
A recent study found that gender bias can lead to productivity losses of about $2.8 million a year.
There are multiple ways to improve gender equality within a company, working for human rights and avoiding mindless profit losses at the same time.
1. Make a longer shortlist when recruiting
As we stated before, gender inequities can be inherent in informal recruitment processes, particularly in male-dominated industries.
An effective way to overcome this, according to the Harvard Business Review, is to make informal shortlists of candidates longer.
Their study showed that adding three candidates to an initial shortlist of three saw the women-to-men ratio rise from 1:6 on the original list, to 1:4 on the extended one, enhancing the chances of a more diverse team.
2. Use skills-based assessments
Another efficient method to remove gender bias while recruiting is to use skills-based assessments and in-depth interviews, in order to assess the candidates’ suitability based on their performance rather than first impressions and having the chance to know them better before deciding.
The assessment tasks have, of course, to be standardized across all applicants to ensure fairness in the recruitment process.
3. Remove the gender pay gap
Moving from the recruitment process to the actual employees’ treatment, there is the gender pay gap issue.
The gender pay gap in the EU stands at 14.1% and has only changed minimally over the last decade. It means that women earn 14.1% on average less per hour than men.
Managers and entrepreneurs should promote gender equality in the workplace by being transparent about wages, to ensure women aren’t receiving less than men in equivalent roles.
Pay brackets can encourage female employees to negotiate their wages by giving an indication of reasonable expectations for a particular position.
4. Have women mentor men
Another way to improve gender equality in the workplace is by encouraging women to mentor men.
Mentoring is proven to be a valuable help for professionals – especially young or entry/middle-level ones – to progress their careers.
But specifically having women mentor men could be particularly useful for the company as a whole, by allowing people to learn more about different working and leadership styles.
5. Make work-life balance a priority
Improving work-life balance can benefit both men and women, especially when it comes to starting a family.
The gender equality gap in the workplace widens considerably after women have children, an issue that can be solved by more equal parental leave policies, enabling working parents to share childcare and helping fathers to spend more time with their babies.
6. Provide anti-bias training
An effective way to fight gender and racial discrimination in the workplace is to provide (or request) anti-bias training for you and your employees, in order to avoid unconscious bias and the so-called microaggressions.
Microaggressions are jokes and offensive comments made without harmful intent but that can hurt people and generate stress in the work environment.
Startups working towards Gender Equality
Apart from general behaviours and policies that every company should apply, there are multiple startups whose mission is to reach gender equality or, however, to solve SDG5 related issues.
We made a list of seven of them whose action is helping to achieve some Gender Equality targets.
German startup Equalista is the first e-learning gender equality app that enables everyone to discover the history of gender inequality, why it exists and how to fight it in everyday life.
The app also allows users to test their own biases in order to solve them more easily.
We Encourage is a Finnish startup that launched an AI tool for domestic violence victims to provide them psycho-social support and guidance on what to do.
The app currently includes only contacts to help providers in Finland but is being developed to have more, at least in all European countries.
Pequeños Amos de Casa
Pequeños Amos de Casa is a Spanish startup whose mission is to help teachers and parents to educate children on gender equality and co-responsibility in house management from the youngest age.
This startup’s techniques reinforce concepts such as punctuality, constancy, order and time management to make girls and boys share responsibility and understand each other’s value.
The company provides e-learning programs or modules as well as practical sessions and in-person workshops.
Based in the US, Equilo is a software house that develops web-based applications for customized gender equality and social inclusion analysis, as well as recommendations and action plans for managers and decision-makers.
The solution can be easily customized to work at its best in twenty different sectors, including agriculture, energy, defence, urban planning, and education.
The company also provides specific analyses and recommendations for 132 low- and middle-income countries to help their path towards equality.
Career Leadhers is an Italian startup that provides leadership masterclasses and workshops to women, giving them access to a
40 000 community of professionals, with whom exchanging suggestions and exercise mentorship in order to improve their careers.
The two founders Federica Segato and Riccardo Secco have been nominated in the Italian Forbes Under 30 list for this project.
Massira is an African startup specialized in providing sexual, reproductive and mental health services to women, to fight inadequate dissemination of information, poor social support, stigma and limited access to reproductive and mental health care in the continent.
Massira aims to bridge the existing knowledge gap; de-stigmatize menstrual, mental & sexual health and help reproductive health problems get diagnosed and treated sooner.
Apart from their experts’ consulting, they also provide an online forum for women to help their peers in an anonymous and safe space.
She Codes is an ed-tech company started in 2017 in Portugal, providing coding skills to women, in order to decrease the gender gap in the IT sector.
The startup offers both online and in-person programmes with a 4.9 out of 5 satisfaction rate. Google, Facebook, GitHub and other top tech companies highly recommend their courses.
Gender Equality: what can you do in your daily life?
We talked about what managers and entrepreneurs must be aware of and check in the workplace.
As a natural consequence, we then suggested some actions that should be taken to reach gender equality inside a company.
Now it is time to add some other good practices that should be followed by everyone in their daily lives since only with the commitment of all we will be able to defeat the different faces of inequality.
a) Share household chores and childcare equally
All adults living in the same home should take responsibility for the housework and children’s care without any gender difference.
That is also why men and women should also put pressure on governments and companies to give more equal parental leave.
b) Value women opinions and experience
Listen to women (or other women) carefully, show them interest and respect for their opinions, knowledge and experience, regardless of the field.
c) Don’t ignore public harassment or assault
Do not keep silent when listening to comments that belittle women, but also black or indigenous people, LGBTQ+ people and other groups.
Give them a voice and do not ignore public harassment or assault for any reason. If it is not safe for you to immediately intervene, look for other people’s help or call the police.
d) Educate children
Avoid gender inequalities’ and discrimination’s persistence by educating the younger generations on differences and respect.
e) Help women gain power
Help women (or other women) to gain power, actively supporting them at your workplace or in the public sphere, voting for female candidates that are underrepresented in governments and parliaments worldwide.
f) Notice signs of violence
Seek help and support if you or someone you know is suffering because of an abusive relationship and learn how to recognize the signs.
g) Listen and reflect
One of the main obstacles to eliminating prejudice is that people have difficulty recognizing that it exists.
“The brain and behavioural sciences have learned a lot about our unconscious biases. We all have them, based on race, religion, sexual orientation and gender. The important thing is to be aware of our sexist assumptions and challenge them.” explains Lise Eliot, a neuroscience professor at the Chicago Medical School of Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science.
So, pay attention to your assumptions and be aware that none is immune to making bigoted comments or holding biased attitudes.
When someone points out something in your speech, listen and reflect on it because self-awareness and reflection are the first steps towards gender equality.
GründerAtelier’s Impact Accelerator
This was the fifth article of our SDGs series, which aims to make the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals easy to put into practice for startups and entrepreneurs, in general.
If you are in charge or work for an impact-related startup that supports one or multiple SDGs you can apply to our Impact Accelerator where we will guide you through the journey to become investment-ready and, then, introduce you to our VC partners.