Throughout the world, women are moving into positions of power, from Michelle Bachelet, the first female president of Chile in 2006; to Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, the first female prime minister of Iceland appointed in 2009; Umu Hawa Tejan-Jalloh as Sierra Leone’s first female Chief Justice in 2008; and Pratibha Devisingh Patil, the twelfth president of India, from 2007 to 2012. The business world is benefitting from the powerful influences of Marillyn Hewson, Chairman, President and CEO of Lockheed Martin; Mary Barra, Chairman, and CEO of General Motors; Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook; Safra Catz, Co-CEO of Oracle, and many more.
According to a Yale report, the number of women enrolled in higher education exceeds that of men in two out of every three countries. And women are outnumbering men in graduation rates worldwide, with women making up the majority of university graduates in countries such as Argentina, Nigeria, and Iran, and are coming close to equal in graduation rates in the world’s largest two populations, China and India, at 48 and 42 percent, respectively. Regardless of whether their studies are conducted at home or in foreign countries, the number of women partaking of higher education is increasing rapidly worldwide. Since the 1970s, average global university enrollment for women has increased from a ratio of 62.5 percent women per men to 107.5 percent women per men as of 2014.
Yet, despite the increased presence of women in government, business, and education, there’s still a discrepancy in how woman experience these roles compared to their male counterparts. Looking back over the past forty, fifty, even one hundred years, women’s progress in education has certainly come a long way, but, sadly, the idea of equal pay has not. Even after all this time, the annual pay for women worldwide is still far behind that of men, with women on average earning the same annual salary that men earned ten years ago —a gap that isn’t expected to reach economic parity for another 170 years as of 2016.
Recognize It, Address It, Fix It
As with any challenge, it’s critical to acknowledge it, properly prioritize it and then put an action in place to solve the issue. Fortunately, the issue of gender parity has even become one of the leading topics in the business world, with the 2016 World Economic Forum addressing the issue as one of its top discussion points, along with climate change and refugees. “Men have a unique opportunity in this, as we still make up 80 percent of the executive ranks and even more than that at the CEO level,” said Mercer CEO Julio A. Portalatin during the forum. “We have a unique obligation to be out in front on growing women in the workforce. It’s not a women’s issue: this is a workforce issue.”
In terms of walking the talk, more family businesses are supporting equal pay, including Gap Inc., a family-owned company since 1969, which recently signed the United States White House’s 2016 Equal Pay Pledge. In its pledge, Gap Inc. stated, “In 2014, Gap Inc. became the first Fortune 500 Company to announce that we pay female and male employees equally for equal work on average across our global organization. This is an important step globally, as well as in the U.S., where a woman earns on average 79 cents for every dollar a man earns. When we pay our employees fairly and treat them with dignity and respect, they are inspired to be their best, which in turn helps us deliver better products and experiences to our customers. And when our business succeeds and grows, we can become a stronger voice for equality and inclusion around the world.”
Fighting against such an imbalanced system is a difficult task to undertake, and it is one in which education plays a key role, but those women who do take it on gain a powerful asset that will serve them well as they successfully guide their family business toward the future.