Despite progress over recent years regarding female representation in the upper levels of business, Marie Gervais writes far more can and must be done to close the gender gap.

According to a World Economic Forum and Statista article in March this year, only 15 per cent of Fortune 500 company CEOs are women. Although some progress has been made since that of the two per cent we saw in 2007, there is still a significant way to go. But don't get out the balloons just yet. In 2020 we were expecting the gender gap to close in 100 years. Now with the setbacks experienced from women leaving the workplace during the pandemic, we expect it to take 136 years.

According to Investopedia, boardrooms have slightly more female representation, but not by much. Despite the appearance of global support for women's rights movements, I still find myself in a 'man's world'.

Gender bias is so strong that even when Indra Nooyi, past CEO of PepsiCo brought the company higher returns, global environmental and social changes, prize-winningly brilliant branding and built a PepsiCo talent academy that saw hundreds of women graduate towards leadership, she couldn't find a single female CEO replacement within the ranks of the company. Both my daughters and my daughter-in-law were consistently replaced by incompetent men, who in spite of being mentored and not showing improvement, were nonetheless chosen for management positions. Regardless of this being a detriment to the organisation.

The increase of hate speech on social media against women around the world as documented by the Council of Europe shows that fear of women taking their rightful place in society is still the underlying belief system of most societies.

Both women and men reinforce gender bias by insisting that men's inappropriate behaviour is a sign of leadership, but when women do it they are showing a lack of leadership by being too emotional. According to Glassdoor's article on how gender bias impacts performance reviews:

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"Troublingly, women were more likely to receive negative feedback based on perceived personality traits (e.g., abrasive) that are often translated as positive traits (e.g. confident and assertive) for men. For example, common words used in critical reviews of female employees included abrasive, bossy, aggressive, strident, emotional and irrational. Of these, only aggressive was used occasionally for men."

In fact when women advance, so do men. When women advance, so do minorities. When women advance, childcare, environmental degradation, and workplace wellness improve. According to the Accenture report Getting to Equal 2020, Once women reach a threshold of 43 per cent of being part of the decision making process, an additional five per cent also benefit. When women's ambition to reach a leadership position increases, men's ambition does not decrease. When women plan to stay with their current employer for the next 12 months, the retention rate for men also increases. Clearly, the fear that men lose out when women advance is incorrect.

I like to think of humanity as a bird with a male and a female wing. To date, humanity has been spinning around in the dirt with only the male wing operational. But when the female wing is equal in strength, consider the heights to which we will be able to soar with two wings. War, violence and destruction could well be replaced with innovation, creativity, health, productivity and sustainability when women and men work together with equal opportunity and strength.

In 1912, Abdu'l-Bahá explained at the Federation of Women's Clubs in the US city of Chicago:

"And let it be known once more that until women and men recognise and realise equality, social and political progress here or anywhere will not be possible. For the world of humanity consists of two parts or members: one is woman; the other is man. Until these two members are equal in strength, the oneness of humanity cannot be established, and the happiness and felicity of mankind will not be a reality."

That was said over 100 years ago. We don't need more business cases for diversity. We need a change of heart and real courage. It is past the time to make gender equity a reality.

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