Women in the Workplace: Role of Gender in the Corporate World

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The corporate world has taken major strides ahead in its attempts to close the gender gap across levels. Anti-discrimination policies, a surge of women into the workplace, a steady rise in female participation in political and corporate leadership are all trends visibly noticeable in the last few years.

Lists of powerful women CEOs and unicorn start-ups founded by women are gaining traction in the blogosphere. Each of these stories is heartening and incredibly motivating, as future generations can look past gender divides when it comes to the workplace.

However, does the existence of a handful of women leaders indicate that the problems have been resolved? Women continue to earn about 80 cents for every dollar a man makes. Fortune 500 reported an all-time high of 23 women CEOs in 2021, including six women of colour. That is less than 5%.

This International Women’s Day, let us take a look at the importance of diversity and how gender biases underline the corporate framework as we know it.

The case for diversity

The world that we live in today is shaped by globalisation and technological advancements. Acknowledging our diversity and identity politics form the fabric of society. It is only logical that a workplace mirrors the complex, variegated differences that exist in society.

Looking past gender and nationality, diversity in a workplace also includes race, ethnicities, political leanings, sexual orientations, socio-economic backgrounds, and disabilities. And this is not just about the optics. Any organisation that truly embraces diversity realises that it pushes innovation, offers new perspectives, and builds a well-rounded global product or service. Diversity and inclusion are key to reducing attrition, connecting to a wider range of customers, and therefore, increasing revenue.

At this point, it is not an ethical or a social obligation but a sound business decision. Despite the tons of study that exist, facets of the corporate world continue to structure themselves and hire with prejudiced lenses.

Gender in the Corporate World

Region Percentage of Women in Senior Management
Africa 39%
Southeast Asia 38%
Latin America 36%
European Union 34%
North America 33%
Asia Pacific 28%

In a post-pandemic world, in 2021, the proportion of women in senior management roles grew to 31%, the highest number ever recorded. Until the pandemic, women leaders were more likely to be HR directors compared to any other roles. This stereotypical trend is also decreasing as more women take on other leadership roles like CEO, Chief Finance Officer, and Chief Information Officer. Source: Women in Business, 2021 Grant Thornton Research

While developments are happening in the right direction, women continue to remain underrepresented, according to data published by the World Economic Forum. This is more visible when particularly looking at women of colour. Fewer women are hired at the entry-level and the numbers keep declining as they climb up the ladder.

Literature on the glass ceiling abounds. An invisible barrier (felt quite strongly though) to advancement that women and other minorities remain unmanageable. Patriarchal stereotypes that automatically portray men as more qualified, despite the same degrees or experiences keep cementing this ceiling. Sexism blatantly hinders women from exploring their full potential. Women leaders often find themselves caught in a double bind. A woman who does not take charge gets her competence questioned while women who do so are often masculinised and portrayed as un-nurturing or dislikable.

“In a world where talent is distributed equally among women and men, an economy that does not fully tap into the leadership skills offered by women is necessarily inefficient,” says Chicago Booth Professor Marianne Bertrand. “Talent is left on the table when women are not placed in leadership positions, and the economy suffers.”

Another factor that contributes to the glass ceiling is that most societies still place the majority of childcare, housework, and other non-work responsibilities on women. The impact of this has also trickled down as more organisations are considering returning to on-site modes of work. As one climbs up the corporate ladder, the expectations of the job become more inflexible and time-consuming.

Ways Ahead

Corporations that embrace gender diversity have shown higher levels of competitiveness and are 21% more likely to experience above-average profitability. They also had a 27% likelihood of outperforming their peers on longer-term value creation. The study also estimates that bridging the gender gap would add about $28 trillion to the value of the global economy. If an organisation focuses on gender equality, both in pay and in positions, then they have more options to recruit and retain top talent.

Moreover, what is needed is a change in the mindset of existing senior management who invariable set the culture of the company that frames HR policies. Transparent hiring and embracing diversity in the true sense of the term (not just for optics) are the ways ahead in breaking the glass ceiling. Family-friendly work policies, while appreciated cannot contribute to the wage gap. The bottom line is that respect, safety, equity, and built-in flexibility will see more women climbing up the corporate ladder. As much as we would like flowers this Women’s Day, we would like these too!

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