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30 March 2023

Policies for change: government levers for enabling workplace gender equality

GIWL and Deloitte set out what governments can do to help address gender inequality at work

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Policies for change: government levers for enabling workplace gender equality

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Deloitte Global’s annual Women @ Work report highlights the obstacles that women continue to face in the workplace, and points to ways in which companies can address some of these ongoing challenges. The report is clear as to the critical role that companies play; however, they cannot address this problem in isolation. To this end, this report explores the role of government policy environments in supporting companies to help address workplace gender equality.

Based on an analysis of government policies, laws and regulations in 50 countries and territories, this report indicates that there is a relationship between how supportive a policy environment is in terms of workplace gender equality and the prevalence of companies which are proactive in addressing this concern. This relationship suggests that government policies are key to driving action and/or supporting company efforts.

To further explore this challenge, interviews were conducted with nineteen people leading the drive for workplace gender equality across thirteen multinational companies. These multinational companies, headquartered across nine countries – from Mexico to Singapore – and operating in a range of sectors, are among the global leaders in workplace gender equality and well positioned to identify how policy environments can support them. The interviewees highlighted several key areas where government policy environments can make a difference to workplace gender equality.

Mandatory gender pay gap reporting – and policies promoting boardroom gender diversity – were seen by interviewees to make a tangible difference. Countries where these regulations are in place are more likely to host companies which champion gender equality. Indeed, many interviewees pointed to how national reporting requirements had boosted their internal efforts to address workplace gender equality and had ensured continued engagement on the subject. These requirements helped push gender equality into leadership priorities, increased engagement amongst employees and sparked a race to the top among competitors. Further, mandatory reporting highlighted issues that might have not been scrutinised otherwise.

However, while such reporting is seen as a catalyst, multinational companies are frustrated by the complexities of providing different sets of data for different reporting regimes (where such regimes exist). They suggested that a more standardised approach across jurisdictions and indexes would free up resources which could be used in tackling any underlying causes of a gender pay gap. Further, standardising reports would allow multinational companies to be benchmarked against each other more easily, which could drive external pressure from consumers and other stakeholder groups.

Countries whose policies support work-life balance were also more likely to host companies which are pro-active at addressing gender equality. Care infrastructure and more equal parental leave policies were prominent suggestions for where governments could do more, with these currently varying in nature across jurisdictions. Women are more likely than men to leave or reduce their paid work to care for children and vulnerable adults (Andrew et al. 2021), and when parental leave is skewed towards the birth parent, that exacerbates this challenge.

The degree of interplay between companies, governments and wider society was apparent throughout the interviews and policy analysis. Interviewees said that regulators, investors, customers and employees all to a greater or lesser extent motivate, push for and applaud company efforts to improve workplace gender equality.

Achieving workplace gender equality is a difficult goal. Gender inequality is embedded in societies – and in some places even inscribed in law. It is therefore unrealistic to assume companies can resolve this challenge in isolation. Government action is needed to support meaningful and sustained change. Based on the data analysis and interviews, below is a set of recommendations for policymakers which the paper explores in further detail.

Recommendations for policymakers

  1. Introduce gender pay gap and/or gender representation transparency measures in jurisdictions where they do not currently exist.
  2. Adopt global standardised gender pay gap reporting requirements with guidelines for multinational companies.
  3. Provide adequately paid leave that allows for a fairer distribution of care responsibilities between men and women.
  4. Ensure access to affordable care for children and vulnerable adults.
  5. Implement policies that support flexible working for employees to balance care responsibilities.