Building a fairer society requires new leadership

Ina Toegel Mikolaj Jan Piskorski
The Women's Strike was a necessary wake-up call for business leaders, policymakers and communities.
Ina Toegel Mikolaj Jan Piskorski

Recently, hundreds of thousands of women and men took to the streets in Switzerland, united in the call for an end to gender inequality. The Women’s Strike was a necessary wake-up call for business leaders, policymakers and communities.

The journey towards gender parity has been slow because inequality runs deep and complex within the fabric of our societies.

Unpicking systemic bias from parliaments to playgrounds requires a collective will to change, binding legislation and, above all, leadership.

One area where swifter gains seem possible is in the corporate world — equal opportunity, access to childcare, parental leave, and equal pay.

These are, after all, HR matters that can be enforced through laws, institutional policies and practices.

However, the World Economic Forum’s recent Global Gender Gap Report estimated that it could take more than a century before women and men reached pay parity, and about 200 years to embed true equality in the workplace.

According to Switzerland’s Federal Office for Gender Equality, there is an 18.3 percent gap in average pay between men and women, with female workers earning on average CHF 1,455 less than their male counterparts each month.

Gender inequality in work has been associated with the legacy of traditional gender specific roles, different approaches to education, negotiation and career choices, and prejudices and biases that will take time and effort to exorcise.

Advocates for reform have responded by talking in a language that all executives can understand: profit and productivity.

This business case for greater diversity uses research to show that greater inclusion equals better corporate performance.

This argument has its merits and has had an impact, but diversity must always be seen as more than just making good business sense.

Equality is a fundamental human right and a crucial pillar of social justice.

The struggle goes to the very heart of the challenge we are facing in navigating a rapidly evolving world.

What kind of society do we aspire to? What is the role of business? What does it take to lead and shape a brighter future?

While IMD has been working on increasing our gender balance for the past several years, figures show we still need to do more.

Women make up 18 percent of our Foundation Board, 37 percent of senior staff, and 16 percent of our faculty.

The Women’s Strike represents an opportunity for us all to renew our commitment to equality for everyone and to work harder to deliver it.

That means government introducing and enforcing the right legislation and regulations, and businesses fulfilling their responsibilities to society.

Ina Toegel is Professor of Leadership and Organizational Change at IMD. Mikolaj Jan Piskorski is a Professor of Strategy and Innovation at IMD. Copyright: IMD.

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