Closing The Gap

US lags other countries in funding programs to promote gender equality at work

The Bank of America headquarters in Charlotte, N.C.
Joe Daniel Price | Getty Images

October 2019 month marks two years since allegations of sexual misconduct against Harvey Weinstein surfaced in the media.

Still, almost half of U.S. companies (48%) have no sexual-harassment policy. That's according to a new report from gender equity watchdog Equileap, which found that the U.S. lags other developed countries when it comes to funding programs to promote gender equality in the workforce and requiring companies to report gender gap metrics. 

Due to pressure from shareholders, consumers and peers, however, U.S. companies are increasingly implementing their own policies to close gender gaps.

A growing body of research draws a correlation between gender-diverse teams and company performance, driving shareholders to demand more transparency from companies about what they are doing to close gaps. That's also driving an array of new so-called "gender-lens investing products" to equip public markets investors with new tools to allocate capital and reward companies that both outperform the market and align with their values.

"Investors are waking up to the fact that investing with a gender equity lens is good for society and their wallet," Equileap CEO Diana van Maasdijk told CNBC Make It

Equileap ranked 3,519 public companies in 23 developed countries, each with a minimum $2 billion market cap. They awarded points based on 19 criteria, modeled after the United Nations Women's Empowerment Principles, including gender balance in the workforce, paid parental leave benefits, and transparency around pay and sexual harassment policies. About half of the companies in the ranking were U.S.-based. Failure to make data available resulted in a 0 score in a given category, which affected some companies' results.

At No. 3, Bank of America was the only American company to make the top 10. Bank of America was one of the best performing companies overall in terms of gender balance, achieving it at every level except on the board. The company offers flex-time, pays a living wage, has a strategy to close the gender pay gap and offers paid family leave of 16 weeks to both parents.

General Motors, Johnson & Johnson and JP Morgan Chase, all made the top-third of the best 100 companies globally.

Access to childcare disproportionately impacts working women and with no federally-sponsored paid parental leave, American companies are increasingly offering benefits that go well beyond what's required under the Family and Medical Leave Act, which guarantees 12 weeks of unpaid leave for the birth, adoption or fostering of a child for eligible employees. They're also being more inclusive, offering equal paid parental leave for both the primary and secondary caregivers and extending those benefits to same-sex couples and adoptive parents, said van Maasdijk.

"American companies see the writing on the wall," she said.

Leading the pack are Hewlett Packard and Spotify, which each offer 26 weeks of parental leave;  American Express and Twitter, which each offer 20 weeks; and Salesforce , which offers 26 weeks and 12 weeks to primary and secondary caregivers.

Equal pay for equal work is required by law in the U.S., but women still hold a greater percentage of the lower-ranking roles in many companies. As a result, their average pay when compared to male workers remains lower. European countries are trying to solve that problem by mandating companies report gender pay gap metrics. The U.S. has no such requirement — 98% of American companies do not disclose gender pay information, the report found — so companies are taking the lead.

"We see a number of companies being transparent on the pay gap, for example Citibank and General Motors," said van Maasdijk. "Investors and consumers want this and they don't plan to wait for policy changes."

As a group, the finance sector performed well: 36 of the top 100 companies in the ranking were in finance. Still, the report notes that while a small number of companies stand out for taking steps to close gender gaps, women are still under-represented in senior management, especially in banking.

Across all sectors, while U.S. companies are closing the gender gap at the board level, women remain underrepresented at the senior management level and especially in the C-suite.

The tech sector as a whole performed below average when it comes to gender balance in the workforce. The report highlighted some of the industries largest companies as lagging behind: globally, Amazon ranked No. 308, Google No. 563, Apple No. 678 and Facebook No. 798.

Equileap noted that Amazon is the only big tech company with a gender-balanced board (just 5% of U.S. companies studied had an equal number of male and female board members), Facebook settled civil rights complaints over gender discrimination embedded in its targeted ads products and Google is battling shareholder lawsuits demanding greater transparency around its sexual harassment policies.

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