International Women’s Day on 8 March celebrates progress towards gender equality, but it also reminds us that more needs to be done. Airbus is playing its part, for example through signing the UN Women’s Empowerment Principles.
International Women’s Day was first celebrated 107 years ago and since then the world has seen women prime ministers, CEOs and astronauts. This global event now celebrates women’s achievements, while also marking a call to action for accelerating gender equality.
Since 1911 there has been an attitudinal shift, with more women in the boardroom, greater equality in legislative rights and initiatives such as the UN Women's Empowerment Principles (WEPs), which offer guidance for business on how to empower women in the workplace, marketplace and community.
The product of collaboration between UN Women and the UN Global Compact, they have now been signed by nearly 2,000 CEOs across the world. Tom Enders, Airbus CEO; Guillaume Faury, President Commercial Aircraft and Airbus Helicopters CEO (until 1 April); and Airbus Defence and Space CEO Dirk Hoke are among the WEP signatories, sending a clear message of support for equality and committment to the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
I am committed to ensuring that, at Airbus, we encourage equality and empower women, by recognizing and promoting their strengths and added value. This is the way to leap forward and succeed together.
Airbus CEO Tom Enders
Despite this progress, women are still not paid equally compared to their male counterparts or present in equal numbers in business or politics (of the world’s 500 largest companies, there are only 13 female CEOs). By signing up to the WEPs, companies now have to ‘walk the talk’.
“The principles mean that we have to provide the leadership, training, professional development and practices that empower women,” says Andrea Debbane, head of Responsibility & Sustainability at Airbus. “Furthermore, we have to measure and then publicly report on progress towards gender equality.”
Interview with Vikram Jit Singh, Strategic Advisor, Private Sector Partnerships at United Nations, UN Women
Why is it important for large companies like Airbus to commit to the Women's Empowerment Principles (WEPs)?
Large companies are employers and occupy powerful positions in value chains. Therefore their policies and practices can impact their employees, suppliers and the community as a whole. Companies should adopt the WEPs to join the community impacting gender equality and women’s empowerment. It is good for business and for society.
The Principles holistically address key issues such as pay equity, gender-responsive supply chain practices, and sexual harassment in the workplace, for example.
According to WEP figures, eliminate the discrimination against female workers could boost productivity by up to 40%. Do you think addressing the gender gap has economic benefits?
Efforts to promote women’s economic empowerment that emphasise market-based approaches and economic gains go hand in hand with enabling women to realise their rights, because systematic discrimination against women constrains their full and equal participation in their economy.
Companies have a stake in addressing the pay gap if they want to realise the full benefits of more women entering the labour force, and also to encourage more women to enter the labour force, which leads to economic growth.
Companies will also benefit from increased consumer spending, a substantial portion of which is controlled by women. And they will benefit from a diverse and equal workforce, which fosters productivity, innovation and better performance.
Could you name some business practices that are impactful in terms of advancing gender equality and women's empowerment?
A recent (2016) Credit Suisse Research Institute study of more than 3,000 companies found that those with at least one female board director generated a compound excess return per annum of 3.5% since 2005 compared to companies with all-male boards.
In a survey of nearly 10,000 working age adults across Brazil, China, Germany, Japan, Mexico, UK and the US, over 60% of millennials and around half of respondents older than 45 said that on-site childcare was important in a job.
Addressing sexual harassment is essential to protect the rights and safety of women, but it can also lead to cost savings. One study estimated that sexual harassment costs a typical Fortune 500 company $6.7 million a year in absenteeism, low productivity, and employee turnover.
Finally, companies that institute affirmative supply chain policies stimulate increased opportunities for women entrepreneurs.
The #MeToo movement has raised awareness of sexual abuse and gender discrimination across the world. How would you value this movement?
Many women, including through the #MeToo campaign, have courageously raised their voices so sexual harassment in the workplace does not remain invisible. Men, too, have raised their voices in solidarity. However concrete action on the part of all stakeholders is required to make a difference in corporate culture. This means implementing policies to protect women at work, but also engaging men.
Watch the video: International Women’s Day 2018: The Time is Now