St Paul's Institute

The Pledge for Parity: How far have we come?

by Vanessa Sanyauke

Posted: 08 Mar 2016

The theme for this year's International Women's Day is 'pledge for parity'. Sadly the original prediction of global parity to be achieved by 2095 has now been pushed even further to 2133. That is 117 years! It seems that in 2 years despite many efforts from men and women all over the world we have taken many steps back to achieving gender equality for all.

In the UK there has been a great deal of effort and work to support the social & economic development of women and girls. However, it seems that we still have a long road ahead of us.

The key to change is for collaboration to take place between the leaders of society, businesses and grass root organisations. Last year for International Women's Day, Girls Talk London in partnership with St Paul's Institute held a special event for 50 young girls who were speed mentored by 10 professional women that worked for companies such as PwC, Weil, UBS as well as those who ran their own businesses or worked in the charitable sector. The theme that year was 'make it happen' and the event kick started with an honest and down to earth speech from Hemione Hudson, Senior Partner at PwC. Some of the barriers that young girls face in life are access to education, employment and role models. Having a female role model helps give young girls the encouragement to pursue their dreams and ambitions, receive sound advice and gives them the opportunity to have questions answered. Inspiring the next generation of future female leaders is an integral part of ensuring that girls are equipped with the confidence and skills to enter the workplace and society with the confidence, grit and determination to succeed.

The UK Government has taken some significant steps to reduce the gender pay gap which is currently at 19%. They announced in 2015 that every company with more than 250 employees will be required by law to publish the difference between the average pay of their male and female employees. The requirements will be extended to the public sector as well as private and voluntary sector employers. While this is a step in the right direction, what needs to be made clear is what happens if businesses have a gap between the average pay of male and female employees? How will they be supported and monitored to make sure that they do everything possible to eradicate this? In November 2015, Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce discovered that there were some instances where male employees were paid more than female staff members. He spent $3 million to fix this by bumping up all the salaries of women who were paid less than their male counterparts for the same roles. This is a brilliant example of how a business can respond immediately to rectify injustice. Hopefully many more leaders of large corporations will follow Benioff's lead.

Globally more than 1 billion live in poverty and a majority of them are women. What has been done in the past year to address this imbalance?

In 2015 Nigeria took a major step in protecting young girls and women from FGM (Female Genital Mutilation) by making it illegal. Across the globe approximately 140 million girls have undergone FGM with Nigeria having the highest number of cases which makes this a historic move by the former President Goodluck Jonathan. So far there are 18 African countries that have also made FGM illegal and these include Ghana, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya and South Africa. However, there are still 28 African countries that still practice this so there is still some work to be done to overcome this huge problem. Men in the continent must play a monumental role in protecting women and girls not just from FGM but from domestic violence and the right to have a decent education and employment opportunities. The pledge for parity is not simply a cause for women but for men all over the world too-Fathers, sons, husbands and brothers everywhere can help evoke change. Men who have the power in some of the world's undeveloped countries need to start advocating and leading by example to make the world a better place for women and girls. When we truly begin to understand that the pledge for parity is a pledge for all people, true change will come: this is not a challenge for women to face alone.

The number of women in senior leadership positions in UK businesses is still at an appalling level with only six FTSE 100 businesses having a female CEO. There are, however, no longer any all-male boards in the FTSE 100 according to the most recent Lord Davies report and the government target of 25% of women on boards has been met - but 260 of the 286 women were all in non-executive posts.

So how far have we really come with parity in business when women are not even in the majority of decision making roles? We do have a few more women sitting at the table but not enough in influential and powerful positions. Women are not making decisions and leading global businesses. There are many barriers still in place that prevent women from rising to the top in business such as an accommodating work culture for working mothers and sponsorship and mentorship to give talented women opportunities to prove themselves. Women are more than capable of running British businesses but we need the chance to show that we can do this.

Every person can play a part in equality for women around the world and actions can be big or small. To create real change and parity around the world we need to give women and girls the best education, access to training and development to gain the right skills, connected networks, supportive employers and the best social and economic conditions.

About this author

Vanessa Sanyauke is the Founder and CEO of Girls Talk London, an organisation that connects young girls and women with senior women and men in various professions.

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The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of St Paul's Institute or St Paul's Cathedral.