Progressing gender equality: the chasm to be filled

A key session at COP26 was ‘progressing gender equality’. Despite 50% of the world being women, there are still gaping gender disparities to resolve.
24 November 2021
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As the hosts of COP26, and as a developed nation, the UK might like to be in a stronger position regarding gender equality. However, analysis by The Times in April 2021 showed that on average, a woman in the UK still earns just 89p for every £1 a man earns. Over 50 years since the Equal Pay Act of 1970, the gender pay gap remains, in the UK and the majority of global nations.

When we look more broadly at the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Index, which covers a spectrum of issues relating to women, such as legal rights, pay, violence, harassment, and working contexts, the equality gap similarly remains considerable. Even in countries with the lowest Gender Gap Index, such as Iceland, Norway and Sweden, the gap needs further addressing. In the worst offending nations such as India, Egypt, Morocco and Oman the gap, is indeed, a gulf.

The World Economic Forum estimates that, on its current trajectory, it will now take 135.6 years to close the gender gap worldwide. Many might still feel this is optimistic.

The pandemic has also hit women disproportionately hard. Women globally have shouldered the burden of childcare, family education, managing the home and juggling work, more so than men. And more critical threats to women are far from diminishing. Before COVID-19, the UN calculated that 243 million women and girls aged 15-49 experienced violence at the hands of a partner. With the strains of the pandemic, this already staggering number has increased.

While many women took prominent leadership roles in fighting the pandemic, in medical research, healthcare and government, The Reykjavik Index for Leadership 2021-22 data shows that deeply rooted views on female leadership are hard to shift. Across the G20 countries, the average Index score is 68, well short of the target equality score of 100 (which indicates complete agreement across society that women and men are equally suited to lead).

Change at governmental, societal and business levels continues, but remains fragmented. Could the gender equality tide finally be slowly turning, and how do we contribute to positive progress?

As brand owners, what’s our role?

Progressing gender balance should be central within business. At an employee level, by redressing the lower proportion of females represented at senior and board levels, right through to how we operate at brand level. The Gender Diversity Index by European Women on Boards shows that year-on-year progress in women’s participation in corporate leadership is very slow: women still struggle to break through the glass ceiling.

Yet, walking the walk can pay off. Kantar BrandZ data from the UK shows that brands that are gender balanced or even slightly “female-skewed” outperform brands that are skewed more towards men, with an average brand value of $4,085bn vs $3,092bn.

And with global female income expected to reach $24 trillion annually in 2020, up from $20 trillion in 2018, we continue to under-represent women at our peril.

Understanding women for better brand connections

But how can we better understand women’s needs and desires more effectively? Female empowerment, the ability to feel ‘empowered’ to move through life equipped and with the self-esteem needed to meet its challenges, has been explored in Kantar’s ‘What Women Want’ survey. This highlights the contributory factors to self-esteem, along with examples of how brands can tap into these.

Some brands deliver well against these factors, while others feel more ‘male rooted’.

From our global work, we know that advertising that is more inclusive tends to be more effective. Consumers repeatedly recognise the importance and power of progressive portrayals of women in advertising, and we believe that the very best creative not only sells products and builds brand equity, it can change how people act and think.  

As brand owners and people within businesses, we have a role to play in considering gender in the work environment. Not just to ‘sell more’, but to play a small daily part in making our world more evenly balanced, with products, messaging and empowerment for all.

Never has change been more needed, at societal, political and environmental levels, particularly after COP26. Gender is firmly on the global agenda, and making positive change begins with us all.

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