Jonathan Wootliff: Gender equality time to shatter the glass ceiling

| January 22, 2014 | 0 Comments

WootliffWe’ve come to expect movie ratings to tell us whether a film contains nudity, sex, profanity or violence.  Now cinemas in Sweden are introducing a new rating to highlight gender bias.  To get an A rating, a movie must pass the so-called Bechdel test, which means it must have at least two named female characters who talk to each other about something other than a man.

This may not seem unsurprising in a nation known for its gender equality.  Indeed, this initiative may appear somewhat quirky.  But doesn’t it make sense for films to reflect something of reality?  After all, 50 percent of the world’s population are women.

Try telling that to the dominant male elite in the Czech Republic – the last European Union state to adopt anti-discrimination law which guarantees the right to equal treatment and bans discrimination in areas including access to employment, business, education, healthcare and social security on the grounds of sex, age, disability, race, ethnic origin, nationality, sexual orientation, religious affiliation and faith or worldview.

Former President, Vaclav Klaus, had initially vetoed the passing of the anti-discrimination bill which delayed its adoption for over a year on the grounds that existing legal protection against discrimination in the Czech Republic was adequate.  But the facts don’t support his argument.

Today, four years after the passing of the Anti-Discrimination Act, Czech women are earning one quarter less than their male counterparts, in comparison to the EU average of 16 percent.  Less than two out of 10 Czech students are female, in contrast to 25 percent across Europe.  And Czech men significantly dominate management positions, with only 14 percent of woman currently sitting on company boards of management.  Even the photo-pages in this illustrious Prague Leaders magazine reflect the gender equality deficit in our society.

According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, the Czech Republic ranks 76 out of 190 countries in terms of female representation in politics, with only 15 percent of women in the Chamber of Deputies and 17 percent in the Senate.  In fact, this nation has one of the lowest representations of women in parliament in the developed world – just 15.5 percent of MPs and 17.3 percent of senators.

The recent re-election of Angela Merkel as German Chancellor, the appointment of Janet Yellen as the first female head of the United States Federal Reserve, combined with Christine Lagarde as Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, gives strong credence to the argument that the world’s economic recovery is in the hands of women.

It may still be less than 100 years since women gained the right to vote, but isn’t it high time for the Czech Republic to improve its record on gender equality?   Isn’t it more than just about morality and the right of both boys and girls born into today’s society to expect the same opportunities?  Surely it’s fundamental to the future sustainability of this country.

More women at work means good news for the global economy, writes Christine Lagarde in a recent article in which she attests that the removal of obstacles for women to achieve parity with men is inextricably linked to higher economic growth.

The IMF chief presents five reasons as to why both halves of our population matter, to which Czech business should take careful note:

1. Women help economic growth: In many countries, growth could be much higher if more women were in paid employment. In Japan, for example, raising female labour force participation to northern European levels would permanently raise per capita GDP by 8 percent. Increasing women’s employment rates in line with those of men would boost the level of GDP.

2. Women bring a better balance of risk and reward in business and finance:  There’s a higher culture of risk in male dominated organisations.  Men trade up to 45 percent more often, and risk taking can be mapped to trading room profits and losses.  Mixing the genders can help.  Companies with more women on their boards have higher sales, higher returns on equity, and higher profitability.

3. Women are the next “emerging markets: Globally, women control about two-thirds of discretionary consumer spending. It is simply good business and good policy to understand the market.­

4. Women invest more in future generations:  Women are more likely to spend on health and education, building human capital to fuel future growth and savings to finance it.

5. Women are agents of change: Women naturally bring a different voice to the table. As managers, women tend to be more open to diverse perspectives, more likely to sponsor and develop new talent, and more inclined to encourage collaboration. Diversity—in all its forms—can create a cradle of ideas and innovation.

Sexual equality is clearly a sustainable development issues.  It’s fundamental to the advancement of Czech society.  Yet, in spite of the overwhelming evidence that gender inclusion makes sound economic, business, and social sense, this great nation is failing to close the gender gap.

As a sustainability consultant to business, here are my recommended basic steps that companies should take to address the challenge:

• Raise awareness among school-leavers regarding the full spectrum of career opportunities available to both boys and girls

• Attract top talent irrespective of sex, with human resources departments encouraged to be completely gender-blind in searching for the best available talent

• Actively promote career advancement of women by introducing specific initiatives to supporting the career advancement of female employees

• Strengthen the work-life balance by exploring ways to provide for more part-time jobs, flexible hours and other conditions more helpful to women

• Evaluate the remuneration system from a gender perspective to ensure that both men and women are financially rewarded according to equally-evaluated Key Performance Indicators

• Internally and externally communicate the company’s commitment to a true and vibrant culture of equal opportunity.

I am proud of the multitude of significant achievements made by men.  There’s no doubt that a world without us would be unsustainable in every respect, not least biologically speaking.  But I am embarrassed that we are still debating the right of women to be afforded equal opportunities in the twenty-first century.

No doubt, the seemingly immovable glass ceilings which persist will eventually be shattered to smithereens, and future generations will look back and laugh about how strange it once was that women weren’t equal in every respect.

But sadly, based on the evidence, we’ve a long way to go.   The Czech Republic will only truly flourish when it replaces its glass ceiling culture with blue sky thinking.

 

A former director of Greenpeace International, Jonathan Wootliff lives in Prague and works throughout the world as a sustainability consultant to business.  He is a special advisor to the Czech Business Council for Sustainable Development.  He has consulted many large corporations including BP, Colgate-Palmolive, McDonald’s, Procter & Gamble and Whirlpool, and providing counsel to companies on the development of sustainability strategies that benefit the environment, society and business.  Among his many activities, he helps companies to resolve disputes, forge productive relationships with non-governmental organizations, and build long-term sustainability strategies.  A qualified journalist with a subsequent background in public relations, Jonathan commonly assists companies with their sustainability communications.  He can be contacted at jonathan@wootliff.com

 

Tags: ,

Category: COLUMNS, CONTRIBUTORS

About the Author (Author Profile)

The leading interactive online forum for important, forward-looking and timely voices and opinions in Central Europe.

Comments (0)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

There are no comments yet. Why not be the first to speak your mind.

Leave a Reply