It’s past time to fully empower women in the workplace.

By Adelle Harrington, Vice President, KellyOCG EMEA

How? Start by asking women—especially Gen Z women.

While women play a significant role in the global workforce, as a group we continue to face challenges achieving equality with men. This is a negative for both women and companies that aren’t realising the strategic advantages that come from empowered women.

Starting at the top: The gender gap in leadership.

The picture is clear. Globally, women hold only 21% of all c-suite roles and fill only 5.4% of CEO roles. This underrepresentation often means women further down the chain are being passed over and organisations are missing opportunities to benefit from women’s diverse perspectives and empathetic leadership styles.

The business case for empowering women is striking: 60% of gender diverse companies report increased profits and productivity. Additionally, research shows that companies with above average diversity in leadership generate 19% more revenue from innovation. And overall, empowered women foster a culture of inclusion, leading to increased employee engagement, satisfaction, and retention.

Strategies for empowerment.

How can we create change? Ask women! Employee engagement surveys seldom delve into issues that impact a woman’s ability to thrive in the workplace. Ask women what they want and need, and you may be surprised. Until then, let’s start with the obvious:  

  • Pay equity—This one should make everyone angry. In 2024 women in the U.K earn just 91 pence for every pound a man makes, and in the U.S., women make only 84 cents on the dollar compared to men. Companies MUST conduct regular pay audits, make salary structures transparent, and set clear paths for performance-based pay increases. 

    At KellyOCG, we have a global effort underway to set pay parity across role types. Assigning employees into buckets based on role type—not tenure or gender—gives us the visibility to spot issues or inequities and quickly adjust where needed.

  • Equal opportunities—Focus on skill requirements and clearly defined promotion criteria, potentially even implementing blind resume reviews to counter unconscious bias.

  • Diverse hiring practices—Proactively seek female candidates by going where the women are—partner with women’s organisations and conduct targeted outreach at universities and conferences.

  • Mentorship/sponsorship—Experienced mentors can provide guidance and career support. Senior leaders should also sponsor high-potential women. After all, today’s early career stars are tomorrow’s leaders.

  • Tech training—As AI and automation gradually eliminate many current jobs—especially roles dominated by women, such as customer service—companies need to think about future workforce needs and ensure both men and women are trained for tech-forward roles.

  • Work-life balance—Flexible schedules, remote work, and compressed work weeks all appeal to women balancing a job with responsibilities at home. The pandemic forced progress here, and showed that flexibility can be successful, but more recently the economy has driven many women back out of the workforce.

  • Create a safe environment—A respectful environment, with clear harassment and discrimination policies, as well as open communication channels where everyone feels seen, valued, and comfortable making their opinions heard is essential.

  • Check your progress—Regularly track gender diversity, pay equity, and employee satisfaction—then hold leadership accountable for progress!

Learning from Gen Z.

According to the World Economic Forum, by 2025 Gen Z will be a third of the global population and this group—particularly the women—are reshaping the workplace. They’re wary of making the same mistakes as their parents who struggled to balance work and family. They expect fair pay, inclusive policies, and transparency—and if they don’t get it, they quit. Almost 30% of Gen Z women cite better advancement and growth opportunities as a reason to leave a job, and over 40% of those looking for new jobs want leadership, teamwork, and management training. Gen Z values learning from each other, and they are more likely to speak out for equality in the workplace.

Perception becomes reality.

Women have a responsibility here too. Women need to truly believe we deserve to be heard; to land good jobs, promotions, and equal pay; and to hold leadership positions. Women are worthy of success just as much as men and it’s about time we all realise it. As we enter a unique time with four, or sometimes even five generations in the workforce, we can all take a lesson from Gen Z and trailblazers like Taylor Swift (who is actually a Millennial) to view ourselves and other women as the intelligent, capable, confident colleagues and leaders that we are.

“A man does something, it’s strategic. A woman does the same thing, it’s calculated. A man is allowed to react. A woman can only overreact.”—Taylor Swift, entertainer, global businessperson extraordinaire

Ms. Swift summed up the feelings of most women in business. Society—including many women—perceive words and actions differently depending on gender. It’s everyone’s responsibility to right this unequal perception.

Organisations need to provide women with opportunities and support to confidently speak up and share their ideas. Encourage them to participate in meetings, present at conferences, and offer thought leadership pieces. As more women speak up, and speak out, perceptions will change. This will bring more women into management roles—even in countries that traditionally don’t embrace women as leaders. I, for one, am trying to lead by example. Are you willing to do the same?

Empowering women in the workplace is a winning strategy for both women and business. Implementing key strategies, fostering an inclusive culture, and amplifying women’s voices can help unlock the full potential of women's talent so all generations will see benefits now and in the future.


References: McKinsey & Company, CEO Magazine, Forbes, Boston Consulting Group, IBM Institute for Business Value, The Guardian, Forbes