Reducing gender inequalities in the early stages of women’s careers

Tony Koo
ESIC Business & Marketing School

How do early career professionals perceive efforts to reduce the gender gap? Are they aware of government’s policies and benefits to deal with gender inequalities? How do they perceive their options to get involved in politics and/or civil society? How do they perceive their opportunities to access employment according to their education level? Answering these questions is relevant as according to the latest Global Gender Report (World Economic Forum, 2018) the largest gaps between women and men are found in Political Empowerment and in Economic Participation & Opportunity, at 73% and 41% respectively ; in fact, in the vast majority of countries the total entrepreneurial activity rate (TEA) is lower for women than for men (Kelley, Singer, & Herrington, 2016) and also more than three quarters of parliamentarians in the world are men (Carmichael, Dilli, & Rijpma, 2014). These overwhelming data show that politics, civil society, and business are not benefiting from women’s contributions as an important part of the female talent pool is untapped.
To get a better understanding of this situation, in the last years several scholarly works and international institutions have been focusing their efforts on monitoring this inequality which has resulted in numerous indexes and studies. Among these initiatives it can be found, for example, the United Nations Development Program’s (UNDP) Gender-Related Development Index (GDI) and Gender Empowerment Measure (GEM) (Raj, 2017), the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index , the Social Watch’s Gender Equality Index , or the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Women’s Economic Opportunity Index (Dilli, Carmichael, & Rijpma, 2019). These works have achieved major progress and impact by setting the standards for a systematic and systemic measurement of social and environmental conditions faced by diverse groups including the gender gap. However, as most follow an aggregate economic approach, information related to women's progress tend to focus mainly on income and wage gaps and, to a much lesser extent, on access to participation in other areas of civic and economic life. Therefore, there is insufficient information about women’s potential to strengthen their capacities, to improve their contributions to society, or to assess the efficiency of policies implemented to increase their development (Ilie, Garcia, & Cardoza, 2018). This may be the reason why societies perceive low progress towards reducing inequality (World Economic Forum, 2019) even when governments and international institutions are making big efforts to improve the situation.
In this context, this study aims at complementing and extending previous works and research on the perception of government policies, initiatives, and strategies to minimize the gap in the participation of women in relevant areas of society; in particular access to benefits, political and civil society involvement, and access to companies. To this end, this study is framed within the social comparison (Festinger, 1954) and the institutional theories (D North, 1990) to analyze the perception of individuals on the options for development women have in these three areas. It focuses on the early stages of the professional career (after graduation) as, given the same level of education, women and men should be in a similar starting point. In doing so, social comparison provides the benchmark for individuals to evaluate their own opinions and abilities by comparing themselves to others (Ngo, Foley, Wong, & Loi, 2003; Perkins & Cross, 2014) while institutions (in particular informal institutions) provide the framework where the gender gap exists in spite of the efforts from governments and other social players (Jütting, Morrisson, Dayton‐Johnson, & Drechsler, 2008). In fact, this is the main premise of the study, in spite of the formal efforts to reduce the gender gap, early career professionals perceive lower opportunities for career development and participation in civic life mainly as a result of socially accepted behaviors and practices (i.e. informal institutions).
The article intends to contribute to the academic literature in several ways: (i) by shedding extra light on the perception of effectiveness of policies intended to reduce the gender gap; (ii) by extending the understanding of the role of socially accepted behaviours and practices (informal institutions) in the gender gap; and (iii) by analysing the impact of poor implementation of policies and initiatives aimed at reducing the gender gap due to financial constraints. As a consequence, the study also expects to draw lessons that offer useful insights for policymaking.
The paper is organized as follows. The next section presents the conceptual framework, provides a general overview of the main scholarly contributions to theory, and introduces the hypotheses. Section 3 explains the sample, methodology, and research design. The paper concludes with a discussion of the results, their implications, and possible directions for future research.