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Georgian Companies Adopt Women’s Empowerment Principles

A conference took place in the hotel “Tbilisi Marriott” organized by the UN Women and the NGO “Civil Development Agency” (CiDA), which represents the Georgian Network for the UN Global Compact.

The conference was dedicated to the gender equality issues in the business sector in Georgia. Representatives of the business sector, NGOs, and international organizations attended the conference.

Caucasus Business Week took special interest in the initiative and talked with the UN Global Compact Network Georgia Corporate Social Responsibility Manager / Legal Expert at Civil Development Agency (CiDA), Salome Zurabishvili.

What are Women’s Empowerment Principles? Why were they adopted and what purpose does this initiative serve in the world and in Georgia?

Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs) are a joint initiative of the UN Global Compact and the UN Women. They appeal to companies on matters of gender equality and encourage them to empower women at the workplace (within the companies); marketplace (within the supply chain); and in the communities (social projects by companies). By signing the principles, the company takes up an obligation to carry out activities in these three directions and in accordance to the 7 principles. These principles encourage companies to develop strong corporate management in order to ensure gender equality (principle 1); protect human rights and support non-discriminatory practices within the company (principle 2); ensure the health, safety and well-being of all man and woman employees (principle 3); Promote education, training and professional development for women (principle 4); Implement enterprise development, supply chain and marketing practices that empower women (principle 5);  Promote equality through community initiatives and advocacy (principle 6); Measure and publicly report on progress to achieve gender equality (principle 7).

Where and why did the idea to implement this initiative in Georgia appear, and what challenges does the country face in these matters?

In April 2016, a local network of the largest corporate sustainability initiative – the UN Global Compact, was established in Georgia. To date, there are 30 members in the Georgian network. The goal of the initiative is to promote corporate responsibility in accordance to international standards and in four principal directions: human rights, labor rights, environmental protection and anti-corruption.

The UN Global Compact Network in Georgia has been actively working locally with the companies on the promotion of Women’s Empowerment Principles among its members.

The Women’s Empowerment Principles is a joint initiative of the UN Global Compact and the UN Women. Two above-mentioned organizations – the UN Women and CiDA, as the Secretariat of the Global Compact Network in Georgia – commenced its work to promote this initiative with local businesses. The project was split into several stages: (1) raising awareness in companies on women’s empowerment principles; (2) a pilot project that covered technical assistance to five companies in terms of gender mainstreaming in their core operations, and incorporation of women’s empowerment principles on the policy level; (3) Conference “Women’s Empowerment Principles – Equality Means Business.”

The situation in Georgia with regard to women’s economic activity and labor rights leaves much to be desired. According to the 2015 Gender Inequality index, Georgia is a low-to-medium income country, and in a list of 145 countries it comes 60th in women’s economic participation and opportunities; 83th in labor-intensive participation; and 110th in the average income ratio between genders.

The problematic issues are:

Combating discrimination at the workplace, – when hiring new employees and during employment; existence and implementation of internal policies for combating sexual harassment; creation of internal complaint / grievance mechanisms for filing complaints on human rights abuse cases;, professional development of women and their inclusion  in the mentorship programs, in order to ensure their subsequent job promotions; encouraging men to take parental leave; abolishing pay gaps between men and women; encouraging women entrepreneurs; carrying out public projects which aim to empower women in the society, etc.

Encouraging Women’s Empowerment Principles in business aims, on one hand, to resolve the above-mentioned issues in the country, and on the other hand to help business to be more responsible, more sustainable and more profitable in the long term.

As we know, five companies recently signed a leadership support statement in Georgia, which pertains to introducing and carrying out Women’s Empowerment Principles in companies. They also prepared action plans; what are some of the notable points in their plans, and what issues or challenges have they revealed? Have any tendencies surfaced that are different from global examples?

As you have noted, 5 companies took part in the project; these are: Adjara Group, Development Company M2, PR & Marketing Communications Company “GEPRA”, the Georgian American University and the “Crystal” Microfinance Organization.

I, as a consultant for the UN Women, provided technical assistance for them to evaluate their operations in terms of women’s rights, and develop action plans for gender equality and women’s empowerment. These five companies are the first business organizations in the world who have adopted specific Action Plan on  “Women Empowerment Principles.”

Despite the fact that the targeted five companies had existing practice and activities on gender equality, this practice was not systematized and defined on the policy level, the companies did not have any pre-established standards or policies in this regard. Another challenge was the lack of complaint mechanisms within the company, as well as the non-existent practice of men taking parental leave. None of the companies had recorded sexual harassment complaints, which is surprising since in the report from the Office of the Public Defender of Georgia, in our country “sexual harassment at the place of employment represents the most widespread form of rights violation.” A study conducted in EU countries reveals that every second woman experiences unwanted sexual treatment, physical contact or other forms of sexual abuse at work.

What results will we see by implementing Women’s Empowerment Principles specifically for companies (or for businesses), and how will this act contribute in the country’s development in general (economy)?

As I have noted, implementing Women’s Empowerment Principles is beneficial both for companies and the public, and contributes to sustainable and inclusive development of the country.

Various studies conducted at an international level have shown that companies with higher representation of women in management positions have a 42% higher index in sales (as opposed to companies where women are less represented in high-ranking positions). These companies also have a 66% higher return on invested capital, their staff is 22% more productive, the revenue rate of businesses is 27% higher, and consumers’ satisfaction towards the company is 39% higher.

How many more companies are planned to be included in the initiative, and what are the scales of the project in the future?

We are planning to promote Women’s Empowerment Principles to members of the UN Global Compact and to members of the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Club. Several companies have already expressed interest to join the initiative, assess their operation from gender-sensitive perspective and draft respective  action plan on women’s empowerment, hence the number of businesses that wish to empower women, implement standards and carry out activities for promotion of gender equality is growing. We will consult every business that is interested in this matter.

The company GEPRA is among the five companies, which were among the first in the world to adopt action plan on Women’s Empowerment Principles.

Caucasus Business Week talked with GEPRA’s CEO, Ekaterine Zhvania, regarding this matter.

Ms. Eka, your company is one of the first to have adopted internal Action Plans on Women’s Empowerment Principles. Why did you decide to adopt an action plan based on these principles, and what are some of the problems you see in terms of gender equality in companies in Georgia?

GEPRA has been a member of the UN Global Compact since 2007. The Global Compact is the largest corporate sustainability initiative in the world, and it benefits development of a sustainable and inclusive global economy for the public, society and the market.

The aforementioned initiative is based on 10 principles and 4 directions – human rights, labor rights, environmental protection and combating corruption.

These principles are the basic standards of corporate social responsibility, and their implementation is quite important for GEPRA. It is important for us to incorporate these principles in everyday operations. GEPRA is also notably a co-founder and member of the Corporate Social Responsibility Club.

It was membership in this club that logically led us to the desire to implement Women’s Empowerment Principles and prepare an action plan – an endeavor that was assisted by UN Women  and CiDA.

What sort of results will implementing Women’s Empowerment Principles bring to your company?

While preparing the action plan, two things became clear:

First was that our company has been unknowingly protecting women’s empowerment principles over the years, through inner processes and procedures. The second was that it’s necessary to move to the next stage and re-formulate this on a policy level.

The primary task of the action plan is to ensure equal opportunities and gender equality, healthy work environment, and career progress for both men and women. A united group is the prerequisite to success. “Equality means business.”

How are you planning to raise awareness to these principles among your employees, and what activities do you have planned?

We have a series of activities planned in 2017 aimed towards implementing Women’s Empowerment Principles. A number of them are aimed towards raising awareness in employees and their participation in the process. A number of them are also aimed towards the outer audience, in order to raise relevance towards the subject.

The parental leave is a good example; it is something mostly women use, without an alternative really being considered. We at GEPRA offer the men working with us, if they so desire, to take advantage of parental leave.

The trainings plan for 2017 has been updated with certain new matters on gender equality and human rights, also basic healthcare education and safety standards, work-life balance, prevention of stress, and flexible working hours.

To create a complaint mechanism for employees in case of human rights and labor rights (discrimination, sexual harassment, etc.) abuses and communicate it with staff.

Additionally, along with other participants of the project, in 2017 we’re planning an information campaign that will aim to promote and include more women in engineering and various other fields which are stereotypically perceived as a man’s job.

By Nutsa Galumashvili
Writer
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