Q&A with UN Women’s Nanette Braun: Why March 8th Still Matters – Unlocking the Full Potential of Women at Work

03/07/2017 01:13 pm ET

Thanks to plans around the world for a “Day Without a Woman,” March 8th, International Women's Day 2017, is shaping up to be one of the most talked about in recent history.

Beyond politics, gender imbalance remains a key business issue, which is only more evident today with advances in globalization, digital disruption and innovation – posing both opportunities and challenges. Today, we now know companies with the greatest gender diversity outperform their peers because it’s a competitive advantage and the data backs it up.

While the commitment of private sector giants, organizations and world leaders regarding gender equality, diversity and empowerment are at an all-time high, a persistent pay gap and lopsided gender representation in certain industries continue to impact women across the globe.

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Nanette Braun, Chief of Communications and Advocacy at U.N. Women, to discuss the next frontier for women in this changing world of work and how companies, individuals and policies can make a difference. Having joined forces with Nanette on initiatives such as Common Ground, I was eager to hear her thoughts regarding gender equality and economic empowerment. Below are some excerpts from our conversation.

Nanette Braun, Chief of Communications and Advocacy at U.N. Women
Nanette Braun, Chief of Communications and Advocacy at U.N. Women

JEN: UN Women's theme for International Women's Day is “Women in the Changing World of Work: Planet 50- 50 by 2030.” Why is this so important?

At UN Women, we see enormous change in the global workforce through ongoing innovation and mobility. As part of our work, we want to ensure women are not left behind. Today, women continue to face ongoing challenges. For instance, the issue of unequal pay and overrepresentation in the informal sector without social protections continue to persist. Also, women today still carry out much of the unpaid care work – a significant benefit to the economy overall that also prevents women from pursuing professional careers. It’s important to address these issues to make sure women in this dynamic work environment have the same opportunities that men do.

JEN: How are you in UN Women raising awareness to achieve Planet 50-50 by 2030?

At UN Women, we raise awareness in a number of ways. Communications and public advocacy are incredibly important tools. What we've seen in the communications landscape in the last 10 years has greatly helped get a message on gender equality and women's empowerment out to a very large audience and more importantly, it has also helped engage our constituencies in a dialogue.

Additionally, UN Women often raises awareness through our programmatic work with decision makers so that we can help shape policy decisions in the countries where we work – making meaningful impact for women on the ground. For example, through one of our campaigns [Step It Up for Gender Equality: Planet 50-50], we have reached out to Heads of State and Governments the world over and said, “How will you address gender equality in your respective countries?” We've had a great response, having heard from over 90 countries so far and now, and we’re following up to make sure these commitments drive change.

JEN: What are the top three things that the private sector can do to help achieve this goal?

First, the private sector can look into how they operate as a company and how women are represented in their workforce, in particular also at senior decision-making levels. Companies should also look at their supply chain. Specifically, who do companies purchase from: Are women-owned businesses and those with a gender-balanced workforce sufficiently represented among their vendors? Similarly, marketing and advertising have a massive impact on perceptions, attitudes and behavior. So, through advertising – if it is done right – you can directly impact attitudinal change and in the longer term also behavior change.

JEN: Do individuals have a role to play in helping achieve gender equality and economic empowerment for women?

Absolutely, it starts with each and all of us. If we are employers, then the question is: Do we employ women and men? I mentioned the gender pay gap, which of course is a big question whether women and men are remunerated equally. But it really starts within our families. Simple questions like, “Do you share the unpaid care burden or do husbands and wives take care of the kids in the household in the same way?” can affect change at a very personal level and translate into the work environment.

JEN: It's been 40 years since International Women's Day was officially recognized. Why is March 8th still relevant and what issues will shape the conversation?

Unfortunately, no country in the world has achieved gender equality – yet. As long as gender equality is not a reality everywhere in the world, we will need March 8th to shine a global spotlight on the issues that women still face in their daily lives – at work and at home.

Women face issues every day, everywhere, but at UN Women, we prioritize these issues around: voice, choice and safety for women. Specifically, what share of voice women have in decision-making in all sectors whether it is politics, public service or private sector; and when it comes to choice, “Do women have access to equally economic opportunities? Do they have access to the labor market? Do they have access to finance, to credit? Do they have access to education? Do they have access to health care?” Additionally, safety for women is a priority– as violence against women remains a big issue. We must make women safe.

With at least one in three women being subject to physical or sexual violence in their lifetime, that has an enormous effect not only on the millions and millions of women who are impacted but also on societies as a whole.

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