Is there a global standard in gender equality? Could we use such a standard to hold companies across the world accountable for their progress in giving men and women equal opportunities?
Today, a handful of countries, mostly in Europe and in Latin America, have implemented national certification systems that cover some aspects of gender equality. However, there is no global standard that can be applied by the world's largest companies across the countries in which they operate. Given the reach they have and the potential role that such companies could play -- not only because of the hundreds of thousands of women and men they employ, but also as potential drivers of best practice policies -- we believe that such a global standard could have a far-reaching impact.
With this idea in mind we set out to develop an assessment methodology that would enable companies to gain a comprehensive understanding of where they stand in terms of gender equality. This methodology can serve as a management tool and at the same time form the basis for setting a global standard in gender equality, and benchmarking companies against it. Companies that meet the standard will be recognized through a global label in gender equality, to be launched in January 2011 by our foundation, The Gender Equality Project.
Our assessment tool focuses on five areas: equal pay for equivalent work, recruitment and promotion, training and mentoring, work-life balance, and company culture. In each of these areas, we seek to capture not only outcomes, but also the policies and practices that have proven to be effective in fostering equal opportunities between men and women in the workplace. Companies are scored on these quantitative and qualitative measures.
Today, few companies systematically measure their performance in these areas. According to a recent study published by the World Economic Forum, 72% of the companies surveyed -- covering the largest companies in 20 OECD countries -- report that they do not monitor the potential salary gaps between women and men in their companies.
Similarly, 12% of these companies do not measure how many women occupy their entry-level management positions. Knowing that across the companies and countries included in the survey, only 5% of the CEO positions are held by women, suggests that there is still a ways to go towards gender equality in the workplace.
Another noteworthy part of the WEF survey is that the corporate respondents identified two elements of culture ("general norms and cultural practices in their country" as well as "a masculine / patriarchal corporate culture") as the two principal barriers to women's rise to positions of leadership.
Policy and cultural difference across countries as well as labor market differences across industries are bound to have an impact on the outcomes achieved across such jurisdictions or industries. However, by identifying and setting benchmarks linked to the policies and practices that are known to close the gender gap, and by specifically including company culture as one of the dimensions that will be analyzed, the path towards better outcomes can be traced.
It is often said that: what gets measured gets done. And, we would add: especially if what is measured is reported. If we look at other areas, notably climate change, we can draw inspiration from the emergence of new standards that no one would have envisioned a few years ago. Not only do carmakers now routinely report on the CO2 emissions of their vehicles, but this has become a factor influencing buyer's decisions.
We look forward to the day when gender equality will have become another standard that companies routinely report on. A standard that influences potential employees in their career choices. A standard that no company can eventually do without to remain competitive in the global marketplace.
And, eventually, a standard that will no longer be needed, because we will have attained equal opportunities in the workplace.
Nicole Schwab and Aniela Unguresan are co-founders of The Gender Equality Project.
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