Positioning gender at the centre of business

By Katja Iversen, Susan Myers and Anino Emuwa

Evidence from McKinsey, the World Bank, and many other institutions repeatedly shows that people, as well as businesses and economies, would be better off if there were more gender equality, diversity and inclusion in the workplace and in the world at large. 

This is an important fact to remember on the opening day of Generation Equality Forum, hosted by President Macron with the support of UN Women, as the world still struggles with COVID-19 response and recovery, and we have seen a dramatic slide-back in hard earned gains for girls and women.  

It is said that gender equality regressed 25 years in 25 weeks due to COVID-19, and we do see that COVID has disproportionately affected women with skyrocketing increases in gender-based violence alarming rates of girls dropping out of school and women leaving the labour force, women carrying even more of the burden of unpaid care work, as well as enhanced misogyny. According to the World Economic Forum it will now take 135.6 years to close the gender gap.   

This is bad news and very worrying. The good news, however,  is that the solutions are well known and that implementation of gender focused policies and initiatives is being put into focus. We are seeing new players step up to the plate and commit to applying a gender-lens to their value chain – not least in the private sector.

According to the UN, only about 16 percent of women worldwide work in the public sector, the rest are employed in the private sector or the informal economy. Hence, whether talking about equal pay, more women in leadership, parental leave and childcare, financial inclusion and access to resources, diverse, inclusive and harassment free work environments, or overall norm change, the private sector is an important driver of gender equality at large, and women’s economic empowerment and leadership in particular. This is not just true at a systemic, societal and macro level, but also for individual business and for girls and women – in all their rich diversity.

Though many companies have still not embraced fully the more people-centred  components of the Sustainable Development Goals, including SDG 5 on gender equality, the pandemic has put more focus on the S in ESG. More companies are coming to the forefront with support from many organizations, including those who have mobilized around the Generation Equality Forum like the UN Global Compact, UN Women, the UN Foundation, Business for Social Responsibility, the B Team and Goal 17 Partners. There is a strong business case, and tremendous change potential not least for getting many more small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to put gender at the centre of their business. And it’s also the right thing to do.

This week’s event in Paris (30 June to 2 July) provides a unique opportunity to raise awareness and rally companies, and all of the partners they will need to work with, to step up their level of ambition. For Avandis Consulting and Goal 17 Partners, a network of executives and entrepreneurs integrating the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals into business models and practice, we have been pleased to play a role and work directly with companies in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and the Nordic, as well as encouraging our networks – including the Africa Women CEOs Network, 100 Women@Davos, Global Perspectives etc –  to put forward commitments toward Generation Equality’s ambitious Global Acceleration Plan and action coalitions. Even in the cases, where the short time frame did not allow a company to finalize a commitment before the Generation Equality Forum, the issues are now on the radar in a much more profound way than before, and we will remain engaged to support and rally.

In that regard, we’ve also put forward our own commitments to apply a gender lens to our external and internal work, champion women’s leadership, grow our networks and to get more companies to apply a gender lens to their business and their whole value chain, all while supporting them in how to do so.

A lot is riding on the success of Generation Equality, but even more is riding on what happens afterwards.  This is the time for everybody – including businesses, big and small, to step it up for girls, women and gender equality. Only if we are gender wise and #ActForEqual can we make up for lost gains and instead progress towards a more gender equal world – to the benefit for people, planet and all.

Katja Iversen is Executive Advisor, Author and Sustainability Advocate

Susan Myers is Executive Director, Goal 17 Partners

Anino Emuwa is Managing Director, Avandis Consulting, founder of Africa Women CEOs Network and 100 Women@ Davos