While the journey toward gender parity has been slow, in some areas the pace is picking up, pointing to opportunities for further acceleration. But progress won’t happen on its own.

A report from the most recent World Economic Forum indicates progress has been somewhat stalled in some nations and with regard to some aspects of gender parity. This makes it even more imperative for institutions, government, and employers, as well as women and men as individuals, to take deliberate steps to close the gender gap—in pay, in leadership roles, and in opportunities across the workforce and society.

What women (and men) can do to close the gap

Accenture’s Getting to Equal 2017 report identified the following three factors that can help accelerate the drive to gender parity:

  • Digital fluency―the extent to which a woman is comfortable with and uses digital technology to connect with others, learn, and work.
  • Career strategy―proactively aiming high and taking advantage of opportunities and behaviors that can boost a woman’s earning power.
  • Technology immersion―a woman’s willingness to embrace technology innovation and skill-building.

Clearly, women themselves have a strong influence on the forces affecting the gender gap; immersing themselves in digital technology and skill building, selecting fields that are more financially lucrative (such as science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), and proactively directing their career path all help.

By taking a page out of the “traditional male playbook” and reaching for opportunities before they’re fully qualified for them, or unapologetically making their case for pay raises, women can pave the way to pay parity. Efforts such as these are also likely to put women in better positions to move up the leadership ranks.

However, a woman’s own initiative is far from enough to create gender parity. Men, as the current power-holders, must actively participate as well by championing women at work and ensuring they have a place in any occupation, at any level, and for equitable pay—without discrimination or bias.

Looking to the Nordic countries for a template

The actions of individuals will not be enough to close the gender gap without the committed support of institutions, employers, and government. The Nordic countries (which have traditionally placed at the top of the World Economic Forum’s list of the most gender-equal nations) represent a good template for a cooperative and formalised process of ensuring gender parity. As outlined in the Huffington Post article, “What Makes the Nordic Countries Gender Equality Winners,” it takes a combination of individual effort, formalised processes, and commonly held cultural values to keep these countries at the forefront of gender parity.

These countries value and promote equality of education. In fact, women outnumber men in higher-level education, and now comprise the majority of the high-skilled workforce. Legislatively-mandated parental leave is universal and generous, creating better work-life balance for both men and women while driving equal opportunity. Post-maternity re-entry programmes are the norm. Norway requires publicly listed companies to have at least 40% representation of each sex on corporate boards.

According to the government of Sweden, “gender mainstreaming” has been identified as the country’s over-arching strategy for mitigating gender inequality. Iceland (which has long had an exceptionally strong women’s movement) boasts 48% female representation in parliament, breaking through what has been called the “highest glass ceiling” and adding considerable influence over employment laws governing gender parity.

It’s not just Nordic countries legislating gender-parity. Canada’s government created the first-ever gender balanced cabinet in 2015 when Prime Minister Trudeau appointed an equal number of women and men to set the policies and priorities for the country.

What does it all mean?

The key conclusion is that achieving gender parity is a group effort. Financial services firms can become leaders—financially and otherwise—by recognising that gender parity is not only socially responsible, but is good business too, and by taking deliberate steps toward creating a climate conducive to gender equality.

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