Gender equity is good business for all

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‘We cannot succeed when half of us are held back.’ – Malala Yousafzai

At the tender age of seven, I heard the term women empowerment for the first time. It was the eve of the first United Nations (UN) Conference on Women in 1975 and I joined the family who was visiting my aunt, Nawal Madkour, a prominent journalist and member of the Board of Directors of the Egyptian Journalists Syndicate. She was flying to Mexico to join Egypt’s delegation to the UN conference on women. Jehan El Sadat, then-Egypt’s first lady, headed the Egyptian delegation to this ground-breaking global event. Fast forward to 2023 and I am participating in a workshop on the ‘’Egyptian Gender Equity Seal (EGES) Auditor Training’’, organized by the Women’s Economic and Social Empowerment Program.

Women empowerment is not only a social justice issue or a matter of individual rights. Research has demonstrated that it has a broader positive impact on the family, employers, and the economy at large.

Family: A research study conducted on a sample of Egyptian households showed that married women in Egypt spend more than 80 percent of their monthly wages on supporting their families, and thus directly making capital investments in their children’s education and health. **

Employer: Companies with female board members yield higher growth in return on equity (difference of 2 percentage points), higher growth of return on assets (4 percentage points difference), and higher growth of operating profit margin (5 percentage points difference). Companies that are privately-held and have women on their boards were found to yield higher profit growth rates than male-only boards (8 percentage points), and higher average gross margin (4 percentage points differential), while publicly listed companies with gender diverse boards yielded higher return on equity (by a 7 percentage point differential). **

If female employment rates were to match male employment rates in Egypt, this would result in a 34 percent increase to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
So, if everybody wins when more women have access to suitable work opportunities, how can we encourage the private sector to increase the employment of women? Traditionally, this sector has lower levels of women employment, in comparison to the government sector.

Enhancing the commitment towards women employment and the ‘labor and management processes’ of private sector companies is a cornerstone along this journey. Enter the joint efforts of the World Bank, the National Council for Women in Egypt (NCW), in partnership with other players.

The Gender Equity model (GEM), developed by the World Bank, has been adopted by the NCW in Egypt. It assesses the gender equity commitment of private sector companies in four main areas of: recruitment, career development, family-work life balance and sexual harassment policies.

Companies go through a five-step process in order to obtain the Egyptian Gender Equity Seal, illustrating that they have the commitment, have done an internal review and have put together a detailed action plan in order to improve their ability to attract and retain women. The first stage in the process is the company onboarding, followed by self-assessment, then action planning, an independent audit and finally certification.

Two of the pioneering companies in Egypt which have acquired the Gender Seal are Vodafone and the Commercial International Bank (CIB). Both have documented their case studies which are available for other companies to review and learn from. They have identified areas for improvement and have clear actions identified which can be reviewed when the re-certification process takes place. The goal is for the employers to create a culture of equity, respect and mutual trust, and a more diverse work environment.
The Egyptian Gender Equity Seal (EGES) process drives companies to work on ensuring that policies, procedures as well as training opportunities, are optimized in order to support women.

‘A girl should be two things: who and what she wants’ – Coco Channel

If you are a private sector company, why should you consider pursuing EGES?
• Increased productivity • Improved morale and team dynamics • Greater access to talent pools • Better decision making and creativity • Reduced risk of litigation • Enhanced reputation for corporate social responsibility • Improved credit worthiness • Improved access to finance • Employee retention • Improved creativity innovation and ideas • Improved ability to attract and retain customers • Reduced costs associated with workplace conflict.

Without a doubt, there are formidable challenges on the road to women economic and social empowerment. Impediment and prejudice require consistent efforts in order to be removed.

Chrsitine Lagarde, former Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and currently President of the European Central Bank says, “I have come to view that gender targets and quotas must play a role here. The mountain is simply too steep to climb without a little help on the way up. We must force the change, or stay mired in the comfortable numbness of complacency”.

She has called for 3 L’s of women empowerment: learning, labor and leadership. She calls learning or education an ‘elevator and a spring board’, labor or the world of work where leveling the playing field is required and finally leadership, where obstacles must be dismantled in order to allow more qualified women to rise to the top.

When the ‘what’s in it for me’ is articulated and is compelling for the private sector, everyone can tap into the dividends women empowerment brings to the table to men, women, families, employers and societies at large.

**The quotations and illustration in this article are from the EGES Standard Operating Procedures Manual

Ayman Madkour’s motto is ‘Be inspired, Be inspiring’. He is a graduate of the American University in Cairo (AUC) and holds a holds a certificate in HR Business Partnership from Cornell University. His travels have taken him to 37 countries on five continents. A regular contributor to AUC Business Forward addressing a wide range of topics including: leadership, business, corporate governance, gender, coaching, talent, people and culture, learning and development, thriving, transformation and leading change, ESG, personal effectiveness, management and organizational excellence.

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