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What global asset owners should do beyond International Women’s Day

International Women’s Day has come around again and still the stats are not good. The pay gap still exists, there are still too few women in C-suite positions and women have less savings in retirement. So what are you going to do about it?

There are still systemic problems in the structure of western society that mean women are being disadvantaged throughout their working lives, and subsequently into retirement.

This is not just an individual person’s story, it is bad for the economy and all of us, regardless of gender. This year the United Nation’s International Women’s theme is Count Her In: Invest in Women. Accelerate progress, which highlights that closing gender gaps in employment could boost GDP per capita by 20 per cent globally.

This year in the UK women make up 56 per cent of enrolled university students, there are more women enrolled at Harvard than men (51:49) and in Australia, women currently make up 59.5 per cent of all completed university degrees. This is all good news.

But while more women are graduating than men, those statistics do not flow through to the workforce in terms of senior positions or pay.

Across the global financial services sector, women make up only 18 per cent of C-suite positions and on the current growth rate this will be only 21 per cent in 2031. The CFA Institute – often seen as a proxy for the investment industry – shows women represent just 19 per cent of members globally.

According to PwC’s Women in Work 2024, the average gender pay gap across the OECD actually widened from 2021 to 2022, despite women’s participation in the workforce rising. The report shows that in the UK women earn 90 pence to a man’s £1.00, even accounting for similar personal and professional backgrounds.

In Australia, where I live, women in financial services face one of the highest pay gaps of any industry (only behind construction) according to the latest gender pay gap study by the Workplace Gender Equality Agency.

The study looked at the 302 financial and insurance services firms in the country and found men on average earned $139,845, and for women it was $103,308 – a 26.1 per cent industry gender pay gap in favour of men. And further, in Australia the median superannuation balance for men aged 60 to 64 years is $204,107 whereas for women in the same age group it is $146,900, a gap of 28 per cent.

So if more women are graduating than men, we need to ask why there is still the pay gap (when we know closing that gap is good for GDP), and why women don’t make it to the higher echelons of the workforce, and why they have less in super.

One of the contributing factors is that the division of domestic labour continues to fall heavily on women (in heterosexual couples). This means women’s careers are interrupted, they are balancing more of the home/work priorities often leading to part time work, or they are overlooked for promotion/don’t put themselves forward. Sometimes this is by choice but often it’s because there is no alternative, or no perceived alternative.

Studies by the United Nations during COVID (when men were at home) and then post COVID have revealed that women take on 70 per cent of informal care and housework demands, which is all unpaid and very time consuming. Put another way women spend about three times more time on unpaid care work than men according to the UN, which says if these activities were assigned a monetary value they would account for more than 40 per cent of GDP.

So let’s get real about the conversation. Are we talking about equality or equity? Are we fighting for an equal playing field – will that ever happen? Or should we be addressing the issue face on?

My personal view is the key to change is addressing the systemic, structural gender stereotypes that disadvantage women.

All of us can do things to change this: put pressure on policymakers to value and recognise the value women make to economies through unpaid care work – initiatives like the suggested paid superannuation on maternity leave in Australia; be prepared to step outside your comfort zone, and challenge your own biases; personally take on more of a load around your own households; be conscious of stereotypes, call them out and be active in changing them.

Hire more women.

Happy International Women’s Day. Next year let’s have something to celebrate.

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