Q&A: Why the world needs to fight for gender equality

Professor Linda Scott describes how women participate in the economy as sort of like the gig economy.

Gender inequality is a drag on national economic growth and contributes to poverty, hunger, poor health, violence and more, said Linda Scott, a professor of entrepreneurship and innovation at the University of Oxford.

“There is no country on the planet nor any industry that has reached gender equality,“ said Scott in answers to ESG Clarity reader questions posted on Twitter on Thursday. “There are success stories, but they are limited to one or two programs within a single company.”

Scott’s best known for creating the concept of the Double X Economy, which she described as a distinctive system under which women participate in the economy as consumers, investors, donors and workers. It’s a “shadowy economy,” sort of like the gig economy, she said.

Scott also founded the Global Business Coalition for Women’s Economic Empowerment, created a consulting firm DoubleXEconomy LLC to focus on women’s economic empowerment, and she led a global initiative to put women’s financial inclusion on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Is there a best practice for assessing a company’s actual performance on gender equity?

Linda Scott: Lots of PR comes out from companies touting their success on diversity but the information is not standardized nor reliable—nor probably honest. What we need is more transparency.  But the Best Practices stuff is balderdash in my view. 

What ways can financial advisers help make women become equal participants in the economy?

LS: Again, the problem is standardization and transparency — and comparability across companies and sectors. What we need is for the investment community to insist on standard methods. Or else for governments to require it, as in the UK.

Why are we having so much trouble getting to gender equality in the western countries?

LS: We must stop asking what’s wrong with women. There’s no evidence of a deficit. We must instead look critically at the resistance. For instance, 80-90% of men support gender equality. We should ask what is wrong with the remaining 10% who don’t?
I argue in the book that this small group is the problem.  Those men are outliers, but they have a disproportionate effect because they are in positions of authority and influence institutions to drag down equality. We must face up to this.

Which economies have been successful at increasing diversity in their big industries? What are the success stories we can learn from?

LS: Important: there is no country on the planet nor any industry that has reached gender equality. You can see this in aggregate data. There are success stories, but they are limited to one or two programs within a single company.

You have written that male dominance is natural to humans. Do you think this will always be the case? Or can we change that bias?

LS: No, no! What I have written is that it is NOT natural. One reason we know that is the level of male dominance has changed substantially in the past 50 years and it varies greatly across cultures. It cannot be hard-wired when it shows that kind of change. Another question about natural male dominance is we’re equally close, genetically, to a female-dominant species, bonobos, as we are to chimps, who are patriarchal. They’re genetically almost identical to each other. We know nothing regarding the common ancestor.
In any case, we must change it because male dominance is jeopardizing our species’ survival. War and disease are universal among humans, but we don’t allow them to go unchecked. We should treat patriarchy the same way. Data show it is toxic to us.

How do we hold companies accountable for not prioritizing diversity and inclusion? Many firms don’t publish their #GenderPayGap figures. Targets for women on boards aren’t working, should the UK follow France & Italy with mandatory quotas?

LS: UK requires top employers publish pay gap data. The first time was a real “come to Jesus” moment: the gap was big, crossed industries and institutions. Other countries must do this. We must start holding governments accountable for enforcing equality laws

Some women say they don’t want to pay attention to the finances of their home what would you say to dissuade such an approach?

LS: Data show this attitude is widespread and adds serious risk to women’s lifetime economic security. It’s a massive issue. We need to start by more aggressively informing. Women are significantly more likely to be poor in old age. This is one reason why.

What is the global impact of gender inequality?

LS: Gender inequality drags down economic growth at the national level. It also contributes significantly to poverty, hunger, poor health, trafficking, violence, and war.  This stuff is REALLY toxic. All detailed and documented in my book The Double X Economy.