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EBRD 2016 Annual Meeting 2016: Gender equality

By Claire Ricklefs

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Why it matters?

Gender’s importance for economic development, from business, policy and academic perspectives, was the subject of a lively and interactive discussion moderated by Sally Bundock, BBC World News presenter, at this year’s 2016 Annual Meeting and Business Forum in London.

The EBRD is actively working to ensure women and men worldwide have the same opportunities in accessing finance, jobs and/or using services, recently adopting its very first Strategy for the Promotion of Gender Equality (2016-2020). The strategy mandates the EBRD to promote, through its operations, sound gender outcomes which contribute to equitable and sustainable economies.

There is a clear business case for companies to promote gender equality in their workforce. Recruiting the best possible talent from the widest possible pool can substantially increase the profitability of any business.

But as Dr Olena Nizalova, a Research Fellow in Health Economics at the University of Kent, pointed out, occupational segregation (both horizontal and vertical) and gender wage gaps are still a sad reality. Mothers in particular tend to suffer from the so-called motherhood wage penalty, as they become less likely to be hired and more likely to be on lower salaries.

Current research on the gender wage gap suggests it is narrowest in the Scandinavian countries with their comprehensive state-sponsored childcare provisions as well as maternity and paternity rights, while the post-communist countries exhibit a mid-range wage gap of between 10-20 per cent. This gap is relatively low compared with other countries like Germany, not least because working mothers currently tend to benefit from informal childcare arrangements whereby older women who have been forced out of the workforce take up this largely unpaid role.

The gap is likely to increase though if nothing is done, Dr Nizalova warned. The current weak legal environment on employment rights is not sustainable and as discrimination against older women will have to cease, these countries need to put more emphasis on better institutional childcare but also need to educate women about their maternity leave choices and the likely consequences, Dr Nizalova stressed. In general, we need to think about all the different components of gender inequality, and make sure any policies and actions are complementary and don’t work against each other over time, she warned.

Serena Romano, President of Corrente Rosa, a women’s advocacy association that promotes women’s participation in business, institutions and politics, highlighted the “huge stereotypes” still preventing women from taking up certain professions today. But things are changing, she said citing companies, such as Ethiopian Airlines, who actively hire and support women in professions traditionally occupied by men, including technical and engineering roles.

The panellists agreed that technological improvements and flexible working arrangements allowing both women and men to work from home and to better combine childcare duties with work demands are crucial in creating better employment conditions, as well as entrepreneurship opportunities for women.

They further stressed the importance of including men in the dialogue. After all, everything in humanity includes both men and women, if you don’t consult one side, you don’t get the whole picture, Ms Romano stressed. This might also mean women have to share the childcare responsibilities more equally and not just delegate childcare to the men “when it suits us”.

Of course, it is not only business that has to confront traditional gender stereotypes but society as a whole. Why is it that many fathers are so proud of their daughters and want them to do well, but when it comes to their professional life they prefer to be surrounded by other men, asked Mariana Gheorghe, Chief Executive Officer of OMV Petrom S.A. in Romania. But “as middle-management positions are increasingly occupied by women these dialogues are held more and more,” she said calling on women to have more open dialogue with men.

The discussion was followed by an award ceremony, which recognised the personal contributions of three outstanding individuals to the Promotion of Gender Equality, and which for the first time included a male winner:

Haydar Yenigün, General Manager of Ford Otosan in Turkey won the category “Promotion of Gender Equality in a Corporate Business”. Since he was appointed the company’s General Manager in early 2012, Haydar has led the effort to become the first automobile group in Turkey to improve working conditions for women, in order to attract more women workers to the industry. Under his leadership the numbers of women holding mid- and top-management positions in the company, has increased from 10 per cent to 15 per cent and women now constitute 35 per cent of white collar employees and 20 per cent of the blue collar roles.

The second award for the “Promotion of Gender Equality in a Financial Institution” went to Lyazzat Ibragimova, in her former role as Chairperson of JSC Enterprise Development Fund “DAMU”, in Kazakhstan. Lyazzat considers it her “social mission” to address the challenges that limit the opportunities for women and that prevent women-led businesses from growing beyond the micro level. She developed the state gender financing programme within her organisation DAMU and initiated programmes which ensure particular attention is paid to women-led enterprises and which foster women entrepreneurship.

The third award for the “Promotion of Gender Equality in a Service Provider” went to Kaliyman Kobshekova, Director for the Issyk-Kul Regional Centre for Development and Education. Under Kaliyman’s leadership, the centre has developed a strong gender equality element to its work, which has significantly contributed to the promotion of adult education, as well as increasing the number of female consultants being trained in the agricultural, tourism and construction sectors.

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