More action is needed to close the gender gap

Sheila Penrose
President, S.A.Penrose Advisors
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Closing the gender gap requires moving from intent and effort – which is already well-established in many organizations – to being accountable for outcomes.

The World Economic Forum has an active role in bringing this about. It can do so not only by instigating discussions in Davos and throughout the year, but also through initiatives such as its Gender Parity Task Forces, multistakeholder collaborations committed to identifying and implementing measures for closing the gender gap in a variety of countries. As a Strategic Partner of the Forum, my company is one of many that are working to accelerate change in this area.

Over the course of my three days in Davos, I’ve participated in sessions exploring pressing issues impacting women: from regulation and public policies to corporate ethics and educational resources. We’ve discussed strategies for addressing the gender gap and bringing about change in both society and business. Some organizations are already making progress. I see this in my corporate surroundings, where more than one-third of non-executive directors are female, and there is good representation in the senior management team.

But this is not the case everywhere, and it certainly is not enough.

It’s not enough that women are named on the lists of board candidates – we have to groom and support strong female candidates to get to the top of those lists.

It’s not enough to build leadership skills and implement organizational initiatives: the two have to be integrated.

By way of example, World Economic Forum research confirms that women exclude themselves from opportunities that demand more experience and attributes than they currently possess, while their male colleagues do not. And companies often specify more requirements than are really necessary to do the job. The result is that women don’t put themselves forward and companies unintentionally rule them out. To resolve this issue, we need action on both sides – action from companies but also action to encourage women to seize the opportunities they are more than qualified for.

It’s important that this issue has been in focus this week. The outcomes will benefit both business and society.

Author: Sheila Penrose is chairman of the board at Jones Lang LaSalle.

Image:  A woman using her mobile phone walks past an electronic board showing graphs. REUTERS/Yuya Shino

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