Despite major strides in gender equality in recent decades, workplace inequality still persists. For the better half of the twentieth century, women were paid around 60% of what their male counterparts earned. Since the 1970s, the gender pay gap has been reduced significantly, especially in Western Europe, North America and Scandinavia, where women earn approximately 80% of what men make. Unfortunately, since 2005, the US has remained stagnant and continues to lag behind other developed nations. In fact, America’s global gender equality ranking dropped from 28th in 2015 to 45th in 2016.

The US is desperately behind on maternity leave. The US mandates only 12 weeks of unpaid leave for parents of newborns. This is in stark contrast to other industrialized countries, most of which guarantee paid leave. France, for example, requires employers to offer new mothers 20 weeks of paid leave in addition to 142 weeks of unpaid leave. Current working conditions are even worse for new fathers. A very small proportion of companies offer any form of paid paternity leave. Only one state, California, has required employers to give this benefit to new fathers.

Women are also less likely to get promoted and have more trouble securing full-time work. Hiring, promotion and review processes are often flawed and lack transparency; either intentionally or unintentionally, they are gender-biased. It is true that, in general, female employees are less likely to ask for raises or push for higher pay.  However, according to Jibe, while women who ask for promotions are 54% more likely to receive them, they are also 30% more likely to be perceived as “aggressive” or “bossy.”

Why is the race to gender equality quietly slowing? The reasons are somewhat nebulous and may have something to do with rising income inequality, a slow climb in CEO pay, a decline in real income for non-college graduates and age-old gender stereotypes, as well as other economic and cultural factors. Ignoring the issue has serious adverse economic consequences. As people wait to get married and have fewer children, our population ages and the average family size dwindles. As our population ages, we need access to a wider talent pool, one that does not hamper women’s involvement. Gender inequality is costly for companies, consumers and countries alike. As Dr. Kossek, a Purdue professor famed for her research on workplace equality said during a recent lecture, “[Gender equity] is critical for the economic growth of this country. Women are receiving a majority of the college degrees in the U.S, but this has not resulted in similar rates of promotion into leadership positions in business and society.”

Dr. Kossek is not alone in her call for greater gender equality in the workplace. The benefits of instituting a culture that values women equally are too great to dismiss. Fully realized gender parity would result in a projected $1 trillion increase in GDP for the US alone. Furthermore, according to the UN, “Companies that focus on women’s empowerment experience greater business success. Research shows investing in women and girls can lead to increases in productivity, organizational effectiveness, return on investment and higher consumer satisfaction.”

What can be done to regain the traction from decades before? Dismantling stereotypes at home is one solution frequently offered. One study found that women were less likely to enter more demanding careers for fear of sacrificing time with their families (as they are typically hampered with more caretaking duties than men). Dr. Kossek offers another solution, “Just like what the U.S. did several decades ago for welfare reform, we could do programs for states that come up with great gender equality programs. We need to make workplace gender equality in the U.S. part of our cultural DNA and significantly move the needle.”

There is no quick fix to closing the gender gap in the workplace. Ensuring certain basic protections, such as rules against sexual harassment, and mandating maternity leave set us on the path to greater equality. The US must become more proactive in order to regain lost momentum, however. Companies should adopt better hiring and screening practices to hire top talent without gender bias. We should also work to eliminate our own biases and help strengthen company cultures that seek to become more diverse and inclusive.