Female Power: Why Gender Equality in Business is Essential for a Sustainable Future

Female Power: Why Gender Equality in Business is Essential for a Sustainable Future

The topic of gender equality brings up a lot of interesting discussions, from what gender equality is defined as, to the topic of sexual harassment disguised a jokes. The topic is an evolving beast that requires more than “a female on the brochure” approach.

As a 28-year-old female, I’ve had over 10 years of good and bad experiences in the workplace, with some of the bad experiences I’ve attributed to my gender. I’ve been sexually harassed by a co-worker then called “uptight”, told to stop being hysterical by male colleagues when I’ve expressed opinions and been laughed at when asking for a pay rise for a role I was paid less than minimum wage for. This isn’t a sob story, it’s a common story. There are also incredible businesses and people out there changing the world and innovating gender equality at work.

I’m basing this article on many of my own experiences and opinions, but keep in mind that I’m a white heterosexual female and there’s a multitude of experiences and opinions out there that need to be heard – so please share yours in the comment section below!

What is gender equality?

The Sustainable Development Goals adopted by the United Nations are a set of 17 global goals that form a blueprint for an economically, peaceful and healthy future. Goal 5 – Gender Equality – is defined as achieving the same rights and opportunities for all genders across all sectors of society, including all decision-making, behaviours, aspirations and needs equally favoured and valued.

“Ending all discrimination against women and girls is not only a basic human right, it’s crucial for sustainable future; it’s proven that empowering women and girls helps economic growth and development.” – United Nations Development Programme

Gender equality is a global issue that affects society as a whole, one aspect is the workplace. The workplace is a hot spot for gender equality to really take shape, with women making less than men for the same jobs and industries riddled with sexual harassment.

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Why is gender equality needed in business?

This may seem like a pretty obvious answer, but for those that don’t know – we live in a very unequal world. It’s not just a human rights issue, women equally in leadership positions is better for the economy and health, education and social welfare.

Women in leadership roles are also essential for the environment, especially as women are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Female leaders were the reason that the Paris Climate Agreement came together. Boards with more women also tend to prioritise environmental issues and invest in renewable energy.

If you need any inspiration look at congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who fights for environmental protection and women’s rights – we love you!

“We know women and girls are particularly at risk when it comes to climate change, and yet women are also at the forefront of bold climate leadership around the world. Together, women are turning ideas into solutions.” – Catherine McKenna, Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change

So here are some stats you should know:

Congresswoman Ilhan Omar speaking at an event in 2016. Credit: Lorie Shaull.

Somali American candidate for Minnesota State Representative, Ilhan Omar speaking at a Hillary for MN event at the U of MN

What can we ALL do to close the gender inequality gap at work?

Moving towards gender equality is a long and forever evolving issue to tackle, certainly one that won’t be solved by some points in an article.

BUT here are some starting points to follow:

Pick an employer that supports gender equality – There are lots of companies that don’t shout about gender equality, they just live it. For example, tech company Salesforce has a gradual return-to-work schedule for new parents, fertility benefits, professional development policy and lean in meetups.

Encourage your employer to support gender equality – If you feel like your company could do more for gender equality in the workplace, create the change you want to see. Go speak to your HR department and see if the following things can be incorporated: transparent salaries (especially when advertising), mentorship programmes, accessible harassment and discrimination policies and back to work schemes for ALL new parents such as flexible working or child care assistance. This is on-top of ensuring there are equal genders in leadership roles.

Know your worth – If you are looking for a new job or want to ensure you are earning the right amount, research the average salary for your role. Ask your friends, search the internet and look at other job advertisements. If you aren’t earning the average wage, know your worth and put the case forward to your boss why you should be. Women are less likely to ask for a raise (or even ask for the average salary a man makes) so let’s change by knowing our worth.

Speak out – If you hear or see something at work that might be taken as sexist to you or someone else (well actually or racist / homophobic / transphobic / offensive), say something. Don’t shout at them, just openly ask them if they could elaborate and have a discussion. We all say the wrong thing sometimes, it might be that they just don’t understand… or they are an A-hole that needs to be reported immediately to HR. A lot of people (including me) have let things slide to not ‘make a fuss’ – so don’t be afraid to go forth and rock the boat.

Support women – support women everywhere, from the cleaner to the CEO. Support each other and be kind.

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Feature image of Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez at SXSW 2019 by Stale Grut / NRKbeta.

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