It has been predicted that it will take the UK almost 75 years to reach gender parity – and it will be a staggering 208 years for the US to follow suit. Within the next half century, just 15 countries will close their gender gap, with Iceland paving the way. Thriving societies and economies must be driven at all levels by both genders, yet despite record numbers of women protesting, speaking up and even winning elections, there’s still a long way to go.

Much more than just a numbers game

Let’s go back to December 2009, when Rosie the Riveter featured on the cover of The Economist. It’s an iconic image, with one all-important modification – ‘we can do it’ was replaced with ‘we did it!’ Except… we didn’t. It was believed at the time that women were about to cross the 50% threshold and actually go on to make up a majority of the American workforce, yet a decade has since passed and gender equality has still not successfully been tackled.

It’s easy to get caught up in the figures, but gender parity isn’t just about a 50/50 divide between the number of male and female employees in the workplace. Women who are disabled, poor, or part of a BAME or LGBT+ community still receive less support in the workplace than those who are not. The promise of gender equality has done little to break down these barriers, although it has made these marginalised women more determined than ever to achieve equal balance and influence over society.

Overcoming professional barriers

In the media we’re seeing increasing numbers of women shattering stereotypes and calling others out for harassment – and it’s time for this to be mirrored in the workplace too. After decades of slow progress, women now represent approximately 27% of board members. While the number remains mediocre, it’s time to look beyond the board and ensure we see strong business role models at all levels. Decision-makers may hold the most power, but women in lower ranks must also help to set new standards for the workplace.

In traditionally male-dominated sectors such as tech, energy and finance, there are many companies that are eager to champion diversity and embrace female employees, but simply don’t know how. They’re left feeling like they’re missing a trick – and to an extent, they are. The conversation often comes back to flexible working and improving accessibility for women returning to work, but what the majority of women really want is to be seen, heard and acknowledged; feeling confident enough to speak up in meetings, contribute ideas to group projects and have female leaders to aspire to.

Female role models empower women to strive for success, but if measures aren’t put in place to help them actually reach those goals, women will always feel undervalued. Gender equality should never be a token gesture – it should be about breaking the mould, setting new standards and, most importantly, following through on sincere promises.