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Women’s Economic Empowerment takes centre stage

The UN Women UK Corporate Advisory Group quarterly meeting on 9 May 2017 brought representatives from across business, non-profit, and government together to discuss women’s economic empowerment.

UN Women UK Trustee Nuala Walsh began by sharing insights from the most recent Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), which took place at the UN Headquarters in New York in March, and from the final report to the UN Secretary-General's High-Level Panel (HLP) on Women’s Economic Empowerment, entitled “Leave No One Behind: Taking Action for Transformational Change on Women’s Economic Empowerment”. The HLP identified seven key priority areas: sharing unpaid care work, access to financial services and technology, eliminating violence against women, increased access to justice, employment practices and culture, procurement practices, and the protection of workers’ rights.

Helene Reardon-Bond, Interim Director of the Government Equalities Office, shared data and policy insights relevant to women’s economic empowerment. Helene noted the tremendous progress that has been made in this area while also flagging priority areas for further work. In particular, she identified the importance of addressing the gender pay gap, or GPG (the difference in men’s and women’s average salaries). Helene noted that the GPG is distinct from unequal pay (different pay for the same job), which has been illegal in the UK for 45 years. The GPG is a complex issue with a number of drivers, such as women’s participation rates in lower paying sectors, greater representation among part-time workers, and higher mid-career attrition rates. The UK has introduced mandatory GPG reporting for all employers with more that 250 staff to gather data on mean and median GPG for salaries and bonuses as well as the distribution of men and women across pay quartiles. This is in keeping with similar policy developments in Austria, Sweden, Australia and Germany. For more information, please see https://gender-pay-gap.service.gov.uk.

© UN Women Europe and Central Asia/Rena Effendi

© UN Women Europe and Central Asia/Rena Effendi

Rebecca Marmot, Global Vice President of Sustainability, Advocacy & Partnerships at Unilever, addressed the role of social norms and stereotypes in economic empowerment. In particular, she shared Unilever’s report “Opportunities for Women: challenging harmful social norms and gender stereotypes to unlock women’s potential”. Rebecca reiterated the business case for women’s economic empowerment and noted the significant impact consumer good companies can have on social norms along the extended value chain, including in commodity production processes, sales distribution, the workplace, and advertising. Rebecca shared a number of examples of workplace practice (including gender balance and recruitment and retention policies), supplier partnerships (such as working closely on skill-building with women farmers, promoting rights and safety among suppliers), and innovation in advertising (as exemplified by Dove and Axe campaigns, among others) across Unilever’s portfolio. For more information, please see https://www.unilever.com/Images/unilever-opportunities-for-women_tcm244-500987_en.pdf.

All of the speakers agreed on the importance of government and business alike taking a holistic approach to women’s empowerment “from classroom to boardroom” and across supply chains. Finally, UN Women UK Vice Chair Karen Parker noted that toolkits around each of seven actions areas identified by the High Level Panel would be published in May 2017.