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Efforts to close the gender gap may have been in vain a new report suggests

The growth of women in the upper echelons of Europe’s leading employers is likely to stall in the years ahead, according to a preliminary report released today by the consulting group Mercer.

In ten years time, the report predicts, women who work in professional and more senior positions will make up 37 percent of those ranks, which is  exactly the same proportion as in 2015, according to preliminary results in When Women Thrive, Mercer’s second annual report on the global outlook for participation, retention, and promotion of women in the workforce.

Executive ranks 

By comparison, the share of women in executive ranks in Europe will rise from 21 percent this year to 33 percent in 2025, the report projects, if organizations can maintain the momentum observed in the current year. Part of the reason for the faster trajectory, Mercer believes, is the corporate focus on hiring women at senior levels.

“Quotas in Europe have had a big impact in boosting female representation in senior roles,” said Julia Howes, Principal in Mercer’s Workforce Analytics practice. “But there’s a disturbing revolving door. While firms are focused on recruiting women at the top, it doesn’t appear they’re keeping them and that could threaten the progress they’ve made, unless they act now.”

Aging workforce 

As the European workforce ages, it raises the possibility that more women will exit the job market to care for the growing elderly population, the report warns. “Leaders risk failing to develop enough qualified workers in Europe to deliver on economic growth,” says Patricia A. Milligan, gobal leader of When Women Thrive at Mercer.

“This is a wake-up call,” commented Milligan. “Leaders should focus not only on getting women to the C-level, but on making sure their organizations have the pipeline of women to follow and maintain their progress with women’s representation.”

Opportunity knocks

When Women Thrive shows a similar flattening of opportunity for women in the United States and Canada. Currently, 39 percent of positions at the professional level and above are held by women, a share that will rise by merely 1 percentage point by 2025, Mercer projects, unless organisations act to reduce differences between women and men in rates of hire, promotion, and retention.

By comparison, the share of executive level jobs held by women in North America will rise from 22 percent this year to 36 percent in 2025, Mercer projects. Part of the reason for the faster trajectory is greater equity between men and women in promotions to the executive rank, Mercer notes.

Progress

“At first glance, it looks like Europe and the US are making great progress,” says Brian Levine, Innovation Leader, Global Workforce Analytics at Mercer. “But there’s a weak link: many companies aren’t focused on ensuring there’s a pipeline of women, nor are they putting into place the supporting practices and cultural environment critical to success.”

Among the key drivers of a successful diversity program, based on Mercer’s analytics, are engaged, executive leadership focused on diversity and educational programs tailored to women’s needs. The research finds that only 59 percent of leaders and 37 percent of men in European organizations are reported to be actively involved in diversity and inclusion activities.

On the education front, only seven percent of European organizations offer financial wellness tailored to women and 17 percent offer gender-specific health education, despite the fact that such programs help companies to recruit and retain women.

Top priority 

“If every CEO made diversity a top priority, not only would they positively impact their growth trajectory, but they would benefit their economies, communities, and individual families as a result,” says Ms. Milligan. “There’s no excuse anymore. Just as we’ve seen data and smart analytics drive improved outcomes on the health and investing fronts, so, too, can we drive progress on diversity. We’re doing it right now.”

The preliminary report, in advance of the release of the full global report in January,marks the one-year anniversary of the initial, 2014 When Women Thrive Report. The new report represents a tripling of participating organizations, nearly 600 corporations and organizations around the world, employing 3.2 million people, including 1.3 million women (see Figure 3). The preliminary report was previewed in Brussels with diversity leaders and speakers from Ericsson, Lufthansa Group, Shell, and UBS.