Mercer: Diversity efforts not improving women growth

02 December 2014

According to a recent research by HR consultancy Mercer into the global workforce, well-intended diversity efforts are not improving women’s progress. The research shows that despite women making up 41% of the global workforce, their representation at the high levels of organisations remains low, with only one in every 5 executives being female. Although this level is expected to grow to 36% by 2024, more can be done and a level of 44% could be reached with new diversity approaches, such as involved senior leaders and equity pay teams.

HR consulting firm Mercer recently released its ‘When Women Thrive, Businesses Thrive’ report, which was based on Mercer’s research into the global workforce. The firm analysed workforce data for more than 1.7 million employees in 28 countries, including more than 680,000 women. The report uncovers the fundamental drivers of current and future female representation and identifies what organizations can do to fully engage women in the workplace and ensure that diversity thrives while achieving business success.

The overall conclusion of the report: “Women, who continue to be underrepresented at most levels in the workforce, are not progressing in their careers despite the past two decades of organisational efforts to achieve gender diversity and equality.”

Women representation in global workforce

Currently, women are make up 41% of the workforce globally, with the highest representation in the US and Canada, where they make up 48% of the workforce, and the lowest in Latin America with 37%. Despite the fact that women make up two-fifths of the global workforce, their representation in higher level roles is far lower, with only 19% of executives being female and just over a quarter (26%) of the senior management roles fulfilled by women. Women’s largest representation among all career levels is in support staff roles, with 40%. In the US and Canada, female employees lag behind their male counterparts at every career level except the professional and executive levels. In Europe/Oceania, women lag behind at every level except the manager level. In Latin America, women lag behind on every level above entry/professional level.

“Clearly, companies can do better in addressing and progressing gender equality in the workplace and leveraging the capabilities of a diverse workforce. Given the size of the untapped female workforce, greater participation of women has major implications for the economic and social development of communities and nations as well as business outcomes and performance,” comments Pat Milligan, President of Mercer’s North America Region.

Projected growth in women at executive level

If the current diversity approaches remain unchanged, in 10 years just over one-third of executive positions will be held by women. This comparison of the projected growth of women at the executive level for different regions shows that although women have the biggest representation in the US and Canada in 2014, their expected representation on the executive level in ten years will experience the smallest growth, of only 2%. The biggest expected increase in women at the executive level is in Europe/Oceania, with an increase of 29%, an increase that is almost matched by Latin America (with 27%).

Mercer states that if new diversity approaches were to be adopted, these numbers could increase significantly more in the coming ten years, with a global increase of female executives from 36% to 44%. At the regional level, the growths will also be much higher, with 42% of executives in the US and Canada expected to be female (up from 26%) and 53% in Latin America (up from 39%). The smallest increase in growth is expected in Europe/Oceania, where already almost half of executives in 2024 are expected to be female, from 47% to 55%.

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To achieve these increases, more active involvement of senior leaders in gender diversity is needed to accelerate the representation of women in executive roles as currently only 56% of organisations indicate to have actively involved senior executives in diversity and inclusion programs. The researchers also state that a dedicated team responsible for pay equity will lead to a quicker improvement of women in senior roles than common diversity policies such as flexible work schedules and leave programs.