Gender Equality Initiatives Must Be Grounded in Evidence

Many gender equality initiatives are rooted in good intentions. But if they’re not grounded in a clear evidence base, their effectiveness will be limited. The most effective initiatives understand that gender inequality is complex, nuanced, and inherently intersectional. They also acknowledge that key metrics such as representation and closing the pay gap are not enough to achieve lasting change.

They address the root causes of gender inequality by targeting laws, policies and practices that limit women’s opportunities in the workplace, at home, or in their communities. They also take into account the fact that, because of how we design systems and structures, some gender gaps will never close entirely.

For example, despite recent progress, girls’ access to education is still a serious challenge worldwide. Each year that a girl is kept out of school can affect her lifetime earnings. It also increases her risk of exploitation, poor health, and gender-based violence. Keeping girls in schools can have benefits for entire societies, from ending poverty to fighting climate change.

While the number of working women is increasing globally, the number of men in paid employment remains stagnant. This is due to a combination of factors, including a slower economic recovery during the COVID-19 pandemic and greater opportunities for men to work in informal economies like agriculture. Moreover, women tend to perform more unpaid household labor, such as caring for children and elderly family members, than men. This can leave them with less time to work for money.

Another factor that limits women’s opportunity in the workforce is societal norms. Social norms evolve with the development of a country, and in some cases, these changes can be rapid. However, in other cases, it is more challenging to change societal attitudes. Research has shown that educating boys and girls on gender equality and exposing them to (female) role models can shift their attitudes. These interventions may not be easy, but they are effective.

The good news is that lowering gender inequality can bring significant macroeconomic benefits, such as stronger economic growth and financial stability, more jobs, and less income inequality. But for these gains to be realized, political leadership, investments and comprehensive policy reforms must dismantle structural barriers that impede women’s progress.

Gender equality must be at the core of every national agenda, budget and institution. To make a difference, leaders need to create psychologically safe spaces in their organizations where employees can be honest about how their lived experiences and gender identities impact them at work. This requires strong leadership, investing in a diverse workforce and creating Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) to provide support. It also means addressing discrimination and harassment with zero tolerance, as well as creating an environment where women are encouraged to speak up. The best way to do this is through a culture of openness and accountability.