All organisations stand to benefit from greater equality for women. However, many of the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have hit women in the workplace disproportionately hard – not least in the widening of the gender wage gap. This regression is not just a blow to women and societal progress but also to the economy and business.
A McKinsey Report entitled COVID-19 and Gender Equality: Countering the Regressive Effects, published in July 2020 states: “COVID-19 continues to affect lives and livelihoods around the world, we can already see that the pandemic and its economic fallout are having a regressive effect on gender equality. By our calculation, women’s jobs are 1.8 times more vulnerable to this crisis than men’s jobs. Women make up 39 percent of global employment but account for 54 percent of overall job losses.”
The Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs) are the result of collaboration between the UN Global Compact and UN Women (and are adapted from the Calvert Women’s Principles®) and embrace seven principles that are informed by real-life business practices and input gathered from across the globe.
These Principles also can inform other stakeholders, including governments, as they engage with business and emphasise the business case for corporate action to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment. Their aim is to empower women to participate fully in economic life across all sectors, seen as essential to building stronger economies, achieving internationally agreed goals for development and sustainability, and improving the quality of life for women, men, families and communities.
The Seven Principles are:
- Principle 1: Establish high-level corporate leadership for gender equality
- Principle 2: Treat all women and men fairly at work – respecting and supporting human rights and non-discrimination
- Principle 3: Ensure the health, safety and well-being of all women and men workers
- Principle 4: Promote education, training and professional development for women
- Principle 5: Implement enterprise development, supply chain and marketing practices that empower women
- Principle 6: Promote equality through community initiatives and advocacy
- Principle 7: Measure and publicly report on progress to achieve gender equality
So, how can organisations support women leaders?
The single most powerful thing an organisation can do to promote more women leaders is to create a culture of “conscious inclusion” by leading, thinking and acting with the conscious intent of including everyone.
Accept that gender diversity is a priority
As leaders in an organisation, if you accept that this is a critical issue that needs to be addressed, the rest of the organisation is likely to follow in your footsteps. This in turn will enact a sense of urgency to tackle and begin to correct this issue. Be sure to educate your company about these initiatives and make sure your goals are implemented consistently across the board.
Encourage women to pursue opportunities at every level. By promoting women at the same rate as men, you show them that they and their skills are valuable assets to your organisation. Having talented women in leadership can help foster and grow aspirations for women just entering the workforce or those looking to move up the ladder.
Actively pursue professional development for women
Organisations can embrace actively working to create opportunities for professional development for their high-potential female employees. They can invest in ongoing training for all employees on topics such as implicit bias (which is an unconscious association, belief or attitude toward any social group), inclusion, diversity, and flexible working. This will continue to bring the many issues women face to the forefront so your organisation can keep on evolving training and policies that will support women.
Find out what your female employees need to succeed
Organisations should give thought to creating a gender-neutral environment. To do that, they must first truly understand what both men and women in their organisation want and need from their employers. What do they value? For some, it may be the option of flexible work arrangements or job-sharing. For others, it may be employee resources groups and mentors.
Offer a flexible work environment
Women fulfill multiple roles, from mothers to caregivers to breadwinners. Flexible working options provide women with much needed balance as they navigate their multiple roles, both in the workplace and at home. Flexibility in an organisation allows all employees to find a balance between their work and home lives. 1
Women occupying leadership positions can be a competitive advantage in business. If you hold a position of influence in an organisation, you are in a prime position to take at least one action that would result in the progress of gender equality in your workplace for the benefit of the women in leadership and the organisation.