Pressing for Progress in Gender Equality: The Future Depends on It

Posted by Johanna Skilling from Ogilvy CommonHealth Worldwide — North America on March 8, 2018

70 years after the American War for Independence, five women met for tea on a hot July day in a small town in upstate New York. One week later, they had created “a convention to discuss the social, civil, and religious condition and rights of woman.” It was Seneca Falls, 1848, and the beginning of the US women’s rights movement.1

170 years after that landmark moment, ask any woman of any age, and she’ll tell you that progress toward equality in life, as well as in business, is not always swift, but it is steady. As researcher William Scarborough writes in the Harvard Business Review, “women’s gains in the workforce constitute one of the largest changes in the history of labor.”2 Scarborough’s recent study shows that women now hold more than 40% of US management roles, up from 25% in 1980.2 In fact, women have earned the lion’s share of new management jobs created over the past 40 years.2​

That said, I imagine you won’t be at all surprised to learn that we’re nowhere near the finish line. Last November, The World Economic Forum said it would take—wait for it—217 years to end the disparities women face in both pay and employment. And the worst part is that’s actually 47 years more than they calculated just a year before.4

But the truth is, the future of business may well depend on true equality between women and men. According to researchers at Stanford, the companies at the forefront of creating true gender diversity “will likely become the leaders of the most sustainable businesses in the 21st century.”3 Early adopters are becoming advocates of change: Today you can read headlines that tell us “Gender Equality Makes Good Business Sense”8 and “Want an Innovative Business? Start With Gender Equality.”6 For the hard numbers, turn to McKinsey, whose recent study found that increased diversity leads to stronger financial performance.6

What do these innovative companies do? They #pressforprogress. They champion equal rights and equal pay. They insist on diversity, often under the leadership of a Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer. They make the workplace safe for women—and appreciate the wide range of skills that women bring to work. They offer robust access to training, and mentoring. They elevate women to leadership positions and have open conversations within the company about what gender equality can achieve. They believe in the mission of gender equality every day, and make it, quite literally, their business, creating innovative products and services for female customers—who still make most of the buying decisions in most categories.

Despite the dire predictions of the WEF, and after hundreds of years of struggle, equality may be coming sooner than we think. A 2017 study by the Intelligence Group shows that younger people see gender as becoming less important to a person’s future.5 And younger women are optimistic, seeing a bright future for achieving career success. Nielsen calls them the “More” Generation: looking forward to more collaboration, more opportunities personally and professionally, and perhaps most of all, more equality for all.7



1. Eisenberg B, et al., History of the Women’s Rights Movement, the National Women’s History Project. 1998, AWIB,

2. Scarborough, William, What the Data Says About Women in Management Between 1980 and 2010, Harvard Business Review, February 23, 2018

3. Fritz, K., et al., The Next Sustainability Frontier: Gender Equity as a Business Imperative, Stanford Social Innovation Review, July 25, 2017

4. Treanor, J., Women will wait 217 years for pay gap to close, WEF says, The Guardian, Wed 1 Nov 2017 

5. Millennials And Gender: A Major Attitude Shift, The Atlantic,

6. King, M, Want An Innovative Business? Start With Gender Equality - Forbes, January 26, 2018

7. Nielsen INSIGHTS, “Want More, Be More: When It Comes To Gender Equality, Millennial Women Are More Optimistic About Closing The Gap,” March 8, 2017