Closing The Gap

Reports: Perceptions of workplace equality differ significantly from the realities

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In anticipation of International Women's Day on Thursday, a pair of surveys released Tuesday morning explore the scope of the gender pay and leadership gaps and steps that can be taken to overcome them.

The organizers of International Women's Day partnered with Ipsos on a global survey that reveals vast differences between perceptions of equality and its realities, while Accenture's research zeroes in on what changes companies can make to tangibly improve women's abilities to advance in corporate settings.

Wide misconceptions 

Understanding the realities and causes behind gender disparities at work will be key to closing the pay gap. According to a survey conducted by International Women's Day with Ipsos in 27 countries across the world, sexual harassment is still viewed as the top issue facing women and girls around the world.

Equal pay is also considered a key challenge facing women, but people wildly over-estimate how quickly the gap could be closed. Nearly half of those surveyed think pay equality between men and women will be achieved in their lifetime, with people in the U.S. projecting equal pay by 2028.

The harsh reality is that data indicates that at the current rate of change, the pay gap won't close for another 31 years after that — 2059.

Also, when it comes to the question of women in business, people vastly over-estimate women's representation in management. In fact, respondents estimated that of the world's top 500 companies, 19 percent have a female CEO. Among these companies the actual percentage of women CEOs is just three.

Potential solutions

Another survey released Tuesday by Accenture, titled "Getting to Equal," is focused on potential solutions. Accenture's findings indicate that changes to corporate culture that benefit women are good for male employees as well.

"We didn't want to spend a lot of time with research about how bad things are. We wanted to figure out how to get better," said Julie Sweet, CEO of Accenture North America. "We wanted to take a step back and say, 'What's the role of culture in creating better gender equality?'"

After polling over 22,000 employees in companies in 32 countries around the world, Accenture found that there are 14 factors that have the most positive effect in driving equality. Among those factors: clear leadership, with articulated goals and policies. The report finds that companies that are transparent about policies, goals and statistics are likely to achieve workplace equality much faster.

Here's what the average American woman makes

It's no surprise that having programs and policies to help employees — such as the ability to work from home — are beneficial. But Accenture's research also found that if companies take steps like improving maternity leave, without also improving paternity leave, the effort can still holding women back by providing them with an opportunity that renders them different from the wider workforce.

In contrast, improving overall parental leave and encouraging men to also take leave improves women's advancement. The study also finds that women are more likely to advance if they're involved with a women's network, which over 80 percent of respondents say their company does not offer.

Then there are a number of factors which Accenture uses to describe an "empowering environment," such as not asking employees to change their appearance or adhere to a dress code.

Sweet says it's key to create policies that are for both women and men – such as flex time, the flexibility to work remotely and parental leave. That way, women don't feel like they're different by opting in to policies like working from home. Rather, automatically making opportunities like parental leave available to everyone creates a workplace that's better for both men and women.

"That's what life feels like day to day on the ground at a company," says Sweet. "It's empowering you to do your job in a way that makes sense."

Don't miss: Melinda Gates just announced a new $170 million plan to fund women's equality

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