Every year, the United Nations reviews progress made on gender equality through its Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). This year, the Commission’s priority theme was “Innovation and technological change, and education in the digital age for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls”. The two-week session coincided with the International Women’s Day on 8 March.
Reviewing and acknowledging progress on gender equality in the private sector, the Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs) community of signatories from more than 153 countries gathered to discuss efforts to advance gender equality and women’s empowerment. In line with the CSW theme, UN Women’s WEPs team organized two virtual global workshops to provide a platform for a selected group of WEPs signatories to discuss and share ideas on how to advance gender equality in the private sector.
In her opening remarks, Anna Falth, Global Head of the WEPs Secretariat, provided participants with the backdrop of CSW and emphasized that innovation and technological change should be inclusive of all women and girls. She highlighted the private sector’s critical role in following up on and implementing the CSW outcome, i.e. the 2023 agreed conclusions.
The workshops provided a venue for WEPs signatories to exchange ideas and experiences on promoting gender equality in the workplace, marketplace and community. The sessions were held in two parts to accommodate different time zones and foster interactions between signatories from across the world. As the workshops aimed to provide a safe space for companies to discuss their challenges, the sessions were not recorded, and Chatham House rules applied.
This blog aims to summarize the key messages, takeaways and recommendations made by the participants during the workshops.
During the first workshop session, Anne-Marie Levesque from Findev Canada, Iris Van der Veken from the Watch & Jewellery Initiative 2030 in Switzerland, Nathalie Rovayo from HOLCIM Ecuador, and Andrea Kelly from the Jamaica Stock Exchange opened the plenary session. Each speaker shared their organization's journey and experiences in advancing gender equality.
Anne-Marie highlighted Findev Canada's use of WEPs as a diagnostic tool to guide their investment decisions, and for its internal WEPs implementation. Iris stressed the business case for inclusiveness in the jewelry industry and recommended WEPs as a framework for companies at different stages of maturity. Nathalie shared the success of HOLCIM's Women in Wheels programme in Ecuador, which provides training and certification for women to become heavy machinery vehicle drivers. Andrea highlighted the Jamaica Stock Exchange's internal and external mentorship programmes and initiatives to advance gender equality and women’s empowerment.
Three speakers opened the discussion for the second session – Anu Mathew from Intel India, Tamara Abdel-Jaber from Amam Ventures Jordan, and Olamide Akin-Alabi from WISCAR Nigeria – and shared insights about their programmes to advance gender equality and women’s empowerment in their countries.
As a winner of Asia Pacific WEPs award’s Community Category, Anu shared insights about Intel’s community efforts to support girls in STEM, particularly education for women university students. They had made targeted efforts to reach even younger groups, such as 11-12th grade girl students, to prepare them for pursuing a degree in STEM. This enlargement of the talent pool also helped the company hire more women. Then, Tamara spoke about the importance of gender lens investing. Her company invests in women and girls to become entrepreneurs by offering acceleration activities, boot camp for business innovation, specifically targeting women in STEM. They also work on creating a lasting impact in the community by supporting women-led businesses. Lastly, Olamide showcased WISCAR’s strategy to bring in more people to advance gender equality through promoting the WEPs.
Key messages from the companies
The WEPs Global Workshops enabled companies from more than 40 countries to gather and discuss their challenges and share lessons learned. The participants were divided into different groups that addressed gender issues related to women’s leadership, workplace, marketplace and community. Key messages included:
- Misinformation and lack of complete understanding of gender equality agenda in the private sector
- Glass ceiling and lack of initiative to promote women in the workplace
- Setting realistic targets
- Use the WEPs Gender Gap Analysis tool to assess the company’s current status and maturity on gender equality
- Make intentional efforts to advance more women into leadership roles and positions.
- Companies’ cultures need change. Unconscious bias among employees, and lack of support from male employees hinder an inclusive workplace culture that fosters gender equality.
- Lack of monitoring and reporting measures to track achievements and results.
- Adopt gender-responsive human resources management strategies to address the conscious and unconscious biases at the workplace.
- Establish parental leave policies that go beyond maternity leave. Other measures should include re-integration initiatives after maternity leave, paternity leave and retention strategies to avoid a leaky pipeline where women leave the workplace after childbirth.
- Put in place provisions to support women’s mental health.
- The main challenge was that efforts to advance gender equality often pause at workplace and marketplace issues are often overlooked.
- The main recommendation was for companies to go beyond workplace issues to also address gender inequalities in the marketplace (e.g. inclusive supply chains, gender-responsive marketing practices, support to women entrepreneurs).
- Rather than talking about challenges, participants shared different ways to engage with local communities, such to help improve women’s access to finance, girls' access to education, and by supporting NGOs with community outreach. Participants also talked about changing social norms, including by empowering women entrepreneurs.
- Get buy-in from the company’s leadership to support community-wide efforts to advance gender equality and women’s empowerment.
- Identify the needs of women and girls in the community, and do not impose your company’s products or services.
- Be intentional to involve women and girls as direct beneficiaries in the company’s community initiatives
- Include the voice of diverse group of employees in community activities.
Overall, the workshops provided a valuable platform for the WEPs community to exchange ideas and strategies, encouraging the private sector at large to focus on advancing gender equality within their organizations but also in the marketplace and community.
The WEPs community will continue to engage to further drive positive changes in their workplace, marketplace and community. Participants shared that they look forward to a future event where the community will face each other in person to share their experience and learn from each other.
Special thanks to the companies who had participated and actively contributed to this global forum