Is gender equality at work improving?

By on March 4, 2015

On the basis of a couple of studies released this week, you might think things are looking up for workplace equality in Britain, and in accordance, in South Africa and around the world.

PwC’s Women in Work index indicates that the UK climbed four places to 14th among Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries. At the same time, research from Procorre says there are now women directors on 57 percent of large companies’ boards.

It sounds positive until you figure that the UK is only 14th of 27 OECD countries, and 43 percent of large firms have no women at all on their boards. Full equality still appears a way off. Scandinavian nations unsurprisingly lead the bunch, with Norway fending off Denmark and Sweden for the top spot.

The difference between male and female median wages in Britain is 18 percent. In Norway it’s 6 percent. The difference between men and women’s labour force participation in Britain is 11 percent; in Norway it’s 4 percent. Seventy one percent of Norwegian women vs 61 percent British women are in full-time work than British women.

International comparisons are useful only up to a point anyway. While the likes of Norway might provide irritatingly impressive role models; it isn’t exactly fair to compare it with Greece, for example, where high levels of general unemployment involve high levels of female unemployment.

Returning to the UK, Procorre found 57.4 percent of firms with a turnover of about R18-billion or more had at least one woman director sitting on the board. That might seem high but less so when you think of how many people sit on the boards of most large companies. There are still a lot of all-male boardrooms even at the highest level.

In smaller firms, the picture is apparently worse. Only 34.7 percent of firms with a turnover of less than R18-million had women directors. Procorre relationship manager, Sophie Sarrat, puts it down to small or absent HR departments. ‘The reality is that they often lack the resources and capacity that larger companies have to promote and develop women effectively through the pipeline,’ she said, adding that smaller boards have ‘less scope for diversity’. The same can be said for small companies with HR departments in South Africa that do not have the means to create opportunity for women in the workplace.

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