Making the Business Case for Gender Equality

Gender parity is both an economic and a moral imperative. When development leaders gather in Chile this week, their goal must be to capitalise on the momentum of recent activism by and on behalf of women, and ensure that businesses understand that equality is good for the bottom line.

Around the world, gender bias is attracting renewed attention. Through protest marches and viral social-media campaigns, women everywhere are demanding an end to sexual harassment, abuse, femicide, and inequality.

But, as successful as the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements have been in raising public awareness, the struggle for parity is far from over. Empowering women and girls is key to achieving all 17 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. At the moment, however, gender bias remains a significant obstacle to global progress, and it is particularly acute in the workplace.

Today, only 5% of S&P 500 companies are led by women, according to Catalyst, a non-profit CEO watchdog. That dismal figure is all the more remarkable when one considers that 73% of global firms allegedly have equal-opportunity policies in place, according to a survey by the International Labour Organization (ILO). Moreover, while research shows a clear link between a company’s gender balance and its financial health, women occupy fewer than 20% of governing board seats in the world’s largest companies.

Addressing such deficiencies is both an economic and a moral imperative. A 2015 report by the McKinsey Global Institute found that if women and men played an “identical role in labor markets,” $28 trillion would be added to the global economy by 2025. These global gains would be in addition to the benefits for individual companies. Firms with greater gender equality are more innovative, generous, and profitable. But, at the current rate of female empowerment, it would take nearly 220 years to close the gender gap. The world cannot afford to wait that long; we need a new approach.


To help chart a path for companies to hire, retain, and promote female employees, we are joining more than 400 global business leaders and government representatives in Santiago, Chile, this week for the Fourth Global Forum on Business for Gender Equality. The gathering – organised by the Chilean government and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), in partnership with the ILO and UN Women – will highlight the importance of gender equality in the private sector.

One solution that will be on the agenda is the UNDP-supported Gender Equality Seal program, a unique initiative that certifies companies that have eliminated pay gaps, increased the number of women in decision-making positions, and worked to end sexual harassment on the job.

Today, these UNDP-certified companies are leading the way in building a more balanced global workforce. For example, Chile’s state-owned copper mining company, Codelco, is increasing its ranks of female employees – and boosting productivity in the process. Similarly, Costa Rica’s Banco Nacional has promoted dozens of women into managerial roles; the bank is now a leading regional provider of financing to female entrepreneurs. And in Canada, Scotiabank has used a female mentorship program to become one of the industry’s most gender-balanced companies. Our hope is that many more firms will strive for gender equality certification, possibly even by signalling their intent this week.

Another initiative to be discussed is the Women’s Empowerment Principles, a set of operating guidelines developed by UN Women and the UN Global Compact that embodies the business case for gender equality. More than 1,700 CEOs have endorsed the principles, while nearly 300 companies in 61 countries have used the initiative’s free gender gap analysis tool to help managers implement them in the workplace.

To be sure, global meetings, certification systems, and free software are only part of the solution. Women still bear disproportionate domestic burdens, and pressures stemming from social and cultural norms often rob them of the chance to attend school, start businesses, or participate in public life. Moreover, women who do have paying jobs outside the home are on the wrong side of a gender wage gap that averages 23%, suggesting that equality is not only about opportunity.

Businesses, communities, and families must work together to level the playing field. Fortunately, the cost of doing nothing is too high for any business—and economies as a whole—to bear, which is why we are optimistic that eliminating gender bias at work is possible. When companies make female empowerment central to their business strategies, growth and equality can be mutually reinforcing to leave no one behind.

Achim Steiner, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women.

This article was originally published on Project Syndicate. Read the original article.

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Related stories

The pandemic’s effect is gendered

Although two thirds of job losses were experienced by women, two thirds of the recipients of the R350 Covid-19 grant were men

White men still rule and earn more

Women and black people occupy only a few seats at the JSE table, the latest PwC report has found

Covid-19 a ‘catalyst for closing the pay gap’

Executive directors earn 66 times the national minimum wage and are overwhelmingly white, a report by assurance, advisory and tax services company PwC has found

Brace yourselves for the worst or act – now!

Revolutions have grown out of less — millions of people without salaries are not going to sit quietly, watching elites live undisturbed

We must continue to empower women entrepreneurs to grow Africa

If we increase the number of high-growth, women-founded startups, they can bridge the inclusivity gaps in their respective economies and societies

Editorial: Dropping celebs isn’t enough

There are not often consequences for men who are reported to have sexually abused women. But maybe, just maybe things are changing for the better.
Advertising

Subscribers only

Toxic power struggle hits public works

With infighting and allegations of corruption and poor planning, the department’s top management looks like a scene from ‘Survivor’

Free State branches gun for Ace

Parts of the provincial ANC will target their former premier, Magashule, and the Free State PEC in a rolling mass action campaign

More top stories

Malawi court judges win global prize

Members of the small African country’s judiciary took a stand for democracy to international approval

Durban city manager says NPA erred in his bail conditions

The corruption-fraught metro is coming to grips with having a municipal manager who is on bail for graft, yet has returned to work

Why anti-corruption campaigns are bad for democracy

Such campaigns can draw attention to the widespread presence of the very behaviour they are trying to stamp out — and subconsciously encourage people to view it as appropriate

Tax, wage bill, debt, pandemic: Mboweni’s tightrope budget policy statement

The finance minister has to close the jaws of the hippo and he’s likely to do this by tightening the country’s belt, again.
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday