Is it time for workplace gender quotas? Some experts believe equality isn’t happening fast enough and is at risk of regressing

A woman in glasses looks disheartened
Forty-six percent of American men don’t even believe the pay gap exists—so how does Big Business go about fixing it?
Maskot—Getty Images

Gender equality is no longer a “want” for employees—it’s an expectation. Yet the reality is that in the past 20 years the gender pay gap in the U.S. has closed by just 2%.

According to the Pew Research Center, in 2002 women were earning an average of 80% of what men were taking home. That figure has risen to 82% in 2022.

In other words, the most recent data reveals that across a range of working ages, for every dollar a man earns, women earn 18 cents less.

The reality of how far women’s pay in the workplace has (or hasn’t) come is further undermined by the fact that many people simply don’t believe the pay gap exists.

In 2019, Survey Monkey asked 8,566 Americans if they thought the pay gap was real: 46% of men and 30% of women thought it was “made up to serve a political purpose” and is not a “legitimate issue.”

The mix of factors has led experts in gender equality to call for a little less carrot, a bit more stick.

Speaking to Fortune during London’s MoneyLive Summit, Helene Panzarino, associate director at the London Institute of Banking and Finance’s Centre for Digital Banking and Finance, said gender parity is taking too long to achieve.

Panzarino said that “unless you have a stick” the journey to pay parity moves too slowly.

“You could legislate it, you could quota for it. I used to not know whether we should quota, and now I think: ‘I’d have some of that,’” she said. “In my experience of banking and finance—like many industries—if you leave them to self-regulate, they won’t.”

Hybrid help

Businesses might also have to accept that the “ship has sailed” on returning to the office, Panzarino said.

“I think we’re starting to lose some of the stigmas around taking time off or having a flexible schedule. COVID, in that regard, had a silver lining. But businesses need to face the fact it’s going to be different now,” she added.

Lana Tahirly Abdullayeva, founding director of Chez FinTech, pointed out that flexible working is not a new concept but is one which massively supports female employees.

Mother of a 22-year-old daughter, she said that throughout her career her employers had supported her to work flexibly thanks to her performance.

The former Experian and Lloyds Banking director told Fortune: “All that flexibility allowed me to continue to play my role as wife and mother and as well be successful in my job. Everybody needs it, but sometimes women need it a bit more, there’s no one rule for everyone.”

The pandemic, she added, did not result in a rebalancing of time for women but merely proved to employers the case for remote work.

“Even during COVID how many women had time off, or how many were taking care of their kids or elderly relatives? My peers, really senior members of staff, were still the ones working and trying to arrange playdates for their children and are sending their husband’s suits to dry cleaning,” Tahirly Abdullayeva said.

“As a wife and a mother, I don’t think that’s a bad thing, but being given flexibility in the workplace while continuing to perform and deliver is super important.”

Undoing the stigma around menopause is another vital aspect of supporting women in the workplace she added, but one which is largely ignored.

In a U.K. government investigation last year of 2,161 women, 92% reported that menopause was impacting them at work, the main reasons being less able to concentrate, experiencing increased stress levels, and a loss of confidence.

Tahirly Abdullayeva has overseen teams of hundreds of people but said in some organizations she was unable to provide the support she wanted to because of corporate constraints.

“Nobody is talking about menopause,” she said. “It’s a blind spot, and it’s a super important subject to address.”

Fortune‘s CFO Daily newsletter is the must-read analysis every finance professional needs to get ahead. Sign up today.

Read More

Great ResignationCompensationReturn to WorkCareersLaborSuccess Stories