“If the law is the floor – some countries are still in the basement. There are many economies around the world where women do not have the same legal rights as men. We all need to work on making a big push to ensure that our next generation will not have to face the same issues”, said Daniela Behr, Economist, Women, Business and the Law team at the World Bank.
For the first 2023 WEPs deep-dive series on 25 January, the WEPs team invited the Women, Business and the Law team and three WEPs signatories for a discussion on laws working for women in business.
Nearly 2.4 billion women of working age do not have the same legal rights as men, according to the latest Women, Business and the Law report. The report measures how laws and regulations in 190 economies affect women’s economic opportunity throughout their working lives.
Legal gender equality matters because mounting evidence indicates that greater legal equality is associated with greater economic empowerment for women. Specifically, it is associated with a larger supply of female labour, a smaller gender wage gap, higher levels of women’s entrepreneurship, and a greater number of women in managerial positions. Reducing gender inequalities in the law is, therefore, wise economic policy.
However, as of 2022, women only hold about three-quarters of the rights of men. The economic potential of the world remains, therefore, largely untapped given that about half of its population is not able to fully participate. This is a lost opportunity for women, companies, economies, and societies at large.
“The private sector plays a particularly important role in implementing the law. But today, stakeholders expect companies to go beyond just compliance with the law. A company progressively implementing the WEPs is attractive to talent, business partners, consumers and investors alike”, said Anna Falth, Global Head, Women’s Empowerment Principles at UN Women. She continued with outlining the difference between gender equality and gender equity. “Gender equality is the ultimate goal. Gender equity is a pathway to gender equality. It is about supporting people where they need it through affirmative action, quotas and other measures. These are tools to help even out gender inequalities by removing systematic root causes.”
Three WEPs signatories shared their experiences and lessons learned on how to conduct business with different sets of law.
A Georgian WEPs signatory, Prime Concrete, was represented by its CEO Alexandre Sokolowsky. He emphasized the role of business in communicating with the government and business associations to implement policies and regulations that could bring more incentives for women at the workplace. He pointed out that while diversity and inclusion is an important topic for companies in countries like Georgia, there are still limitations on companies to go beyond compliance. However, as a leader in a male dominated sector, his company has been providing effective incentives to attract and retain women in the workforce.
Go beyond compliance to ensure sustainable change
Malisha Awunor, Group Head of People and Culture at EOH in South Africa explained how her company has been addressing systematic, social and structural exclusion of women that is deeply embedded in the community. She argued that the companies need to review their practices beyond just the law. “We don’t do things just for the sake of compliance, but we do it because it is the right thing to do. We need to leave behind something better than what we have inherited.” The company has been working on fostering inclusive environment for everyone to thrive.
Regulation is the floor, not the ceiling
“Regulation is the floor, not the ceiling. It should be a starting point for companies to a take stance on issues such as gender, but never the end point. How we can best support different groups and create an inclusive environment, that should be the focus,” said Marissa Saretsky, VP of Global Sustainability of Pandora in Denmark. As a global company, Pandora has put in place commitments on gender-related issues that go beyond the already progressive laws in Denmark by looking at the companies’ practices at a global scale. For example, while Danish law mandates gender parity at the board level and senior leadership levels for Danish entities, Pandora is working to make this reality for the global scope of senior leadership roles above Vice President. Marissa also pointed out that while laws to push gender parity are helpful, having women in those positions is not only a numbers game. It matters just as much how they are treated, and whether they feel included. This is essential for talent retention.
Beyond workplace, and impacting marketplace and community
The three WEPs signatories also work on advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment in the marketplace and community. “Our marketing campaigns reach millions of consumers around the world, and they definitely can have an impact on consumers,” said Marissa, explaining how Pandora has been training its marketing team on diversity and inclusion and providing guidance on responsible marketing practices. Malisha and Alexandre both reiterated the importance of intentional policies and practices. Especially, EOH has been working on community initiatives to provide STEM and ICT education to girls in the community, which in the future could turn into pipeline of talent to the company. Prime Concrete has incentivized rural communities to bring women in rural areas to work for them.
“We need to understand that women may also face intersectional forms of discrimination. Women may face additional barriers to their participation in the economy and society not only because of their gender, but also because of their age, family status, race, disability, or ethnicity”, expressed Daniela. A holistic and intersectional approach to understand and address the needs of different groups of women is needed to guarantee equal protection of all women.
Daniela added that “reforming gender unequal laws and removing legal barriers for women is, in fact, a global phenomenon. It has been done across all regions and income groups. Yet, while most countries have seemingly understood that removing legal barriers for women is wise economic policy, more needs to be done in order to reach gender equality in the law – everywhere.” Achieving gender equality requires a concerted effort by all stakeholders – governments, private sector, civil society, and international organizations.
Are you interested in finding more about what these companies said? Check out the recording of WEPs deep-dive series 1: Gender Equality vs. Equity- Laws working for women in business.