Last year set a crucial tone for how the world thinks about gender equality. While issues of greater equity continue to fuel daily media headlines, women across the globe are driving change in their workplaces, governments and communities.

Amid this upheaval, it’s important to better understand the state of trust for women specifically. For the first time in the Edelman Trust Barometer’s 19-year history, we did just that, exploring the connection between gender and trust, and how it factors into women’s engagement with business and the media.

And what did we find? In nearly every market surveyed, from the U.S. to the UAE, women trust less than men. Women in Germany and the U.S. cite higher levels of distrust with 12- and 11-point gaps, respectively. The data also revealed that the largest trust gap between men and women globally is in business, placing a great deal of importance on the employer-employee relationship.

The good news? Employers have a unique opportunity to close this gap. More than seven in 10 women say they trust their employer. While this lags slightly behind the trust men place in their employers, overall, this is a strong foundation upon which business can demonstrate positive action and build trust more broadly.

Building trust with employees starts with taking a leadership position on issues that matter — to women and men. Seventy-four percent of women say that CEOs should take the lead on change, rather than waiting for governments to impose it; a 10-point increase in the last year. There is also a continued call for equality; both men and women say that the number one issue for CEOs to address is equal pay.

Opportunity also abounds for companies seeking to engage women with their news. This year revealed a 22-point jump in news engagement among women. This is a profound shift. We now consider more than one-in-three women as amplifiers of the media (those who share and consume news weekly and share and post content at least once per month)—a lift of 15 points. This means they aren’t just consuming the news, but are actively adding to the conversation in ever-greater numbers. Women are sharing stories, debating topics and spotlighting issues that matter to them.

These opportunities don’t come without risk, however. When brands take a stand on a social issue without having first taken an honest look within their own organizations, well-meaning initiatives can fall flat — or worse. And it isn’t just a company’s employees or consumers who will hold them accountable for failing to live up to their stated values; investors are doing so too. For example, increasingly, “#MeToo clauses” are being added to merger deals.

Organizations must start by understanding where they are in the journey to gender equity, and build from there. Ask your teams: is our own house in order? Are we doing the hard work to get the basics — policies, processes and communication — right? How can we create behavioral change and build a culture of inclusivity that transcends any one policy?

Building brands women trust — and want to buy from, work for and engage with — is hard work, but the upside for business is real. Last year, women are estimated to have controlled about $40 trillion in consumer spending across the world. And the most gender-diverse executive teams were more likely to have above-average profitability than the least diverse companies by 21 percent. We can’t afford to slow down now.

Lisa Kimmel is chair and CEO, Edelman Canada and chair, Latin America. She is also the global chair of Edelman's Global Women's Equality Network.

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