By Melissa J. Anderson (New York City)
“Gender equality needs to be a strategic priority for organizations. It demands all of the rigor companies usually display when pursuing business-critical objectives and the full commitment of top leadership,” said Aniela Unguresan, co-founder (along with Nicole Schwab) of The Gender Equality Project, a new benchmarking and certification initiative backed by the World Economic Forum and several multinational corporations.
According to Unguresan, the goal of The Gender Equality Project is to enable the world’s largest firms to, both quantitatively and qualitatively, measure progress toward gender equality. What makes The Gender Equality Project stand out, she explained, is that it enables participating firms not only to measure their own progress, but also to accelerate the pace of change by implementing a standardized assessment methodology that can be applied across different industries and regions. This assessment methodology will serve as a basis for the first global certification system in gender equality.
“It’s our experience within the corporate environment that what gets measured gets done,” she explained. By measuring and comparing their progress toward defined goals, just like any other strategic initiative, companies can begin to make headway in the global problem of gender inequality in the workplace. After the launch of its assessment methodology, The Gender Equality project will make available a self-assessment tool and will put in place a global certification system– a veritable stamp of approval for gender equality.
Benchmarking Success, Across Boarders and Industries
The Gender Equality Project, based in Switzerland, works in partnership with the World Economic Forum. In years past, the WEF has shone a spotlight on gender equality – and this year is no different. The WEF announced that at its annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland this week, strategic partner groups (company delegations) must include at least one female for every four males. The so-called gender quota should have two outcomes – first to raise the embarrassingly low number of females usually in attendance at the elite gathering, and second, to ensure the issue of gender equality is a top-of-mind discussion point throughout the week.
While more countries are adopting or considering a gender quota for boardroom representation, Unguresan explained, the Project’s initiative is “an excellent alternative to quotas. It’s a global certification system, built around voluntary measurement that is both qualitative and quantitative.”
Fittingly, after years of preparation, the GEP’s assessment methodology will be launched this week at Davos as well, amid discussion of the strategic value of gender diversity and the critical necessity to include women in the network of the global economic elite.
“Gender has been on the corporate agenda for a number of years,” Unguresan said, “but progress has not matched aspirations.” She cited numbers revealing the persistent inequality of women in the economic sphere. For example, she said, women worldwide only earn 85% of what men earn. Men hold more positions of responsibility. Women only compose about 10% of corporate boards worldwide.
So far, work toward promoting the equality of women in the workplace has stalled, in part, due to its piecemeal approach. Clearly we need a new tact.
“The universality of this assessment methodology should accelerate the rhythm of change,” she explained. The methodology measures companies in five areas of assessment: equal pay for equivalent work, recruitment and promotion, training and mentoring, work-life balance, and company culture. Because the measures are both qualitative and quantitative, companies can hope to avoid a purely numbers-game approach to gender equality with detailed insight from the employees themselves, while still adhering to principles of statistical analysis.
Respect and Rigidity
Before co-founding the GEP, Unguresan had a “very classical corporate career” in management consulting, trading, and as CEO of a startup. And she said she was confronted by the choices that arise from the traditional rigid, linear career path.
In fact, she said that one of the most important issues hampering work toward gender equality is the rigid adherence to expectations of a linear career path. She explained, “Gender equality is about less rigid promoting practices and less rigid career choices. I believe that a non-linear career path is critical for women. But it is equally important for all employees, both male and female.”
“We need to ensure that less rigid career paths are equally respected and valued by organizations,” she said.
Editorial note: The Gender Equality Project announced Friday, January 28 that the companies involved in its pilot program were: Alcatel-Lucent, BC Hydro in Canada, the Coca-Cola System in France (Coca-Cola France and Coca-Cola Entreprise), Ogilvy & Mather (a WPP company), L’Oréal, Pfizer Inc. and PwC Germany. Going forward, partner companies include Bain & Company Inc., BBDO New York, and Heiner Thorborg & Co, Generation CEO.