Although the drive to reach gender equality has picked up speed, and diversity initiatives have been put into place in companies and organizations, a significant level of resistance and backlash remains, according to a leading UN business group.
On the side-lines of the Commission on the Status of Women, the UN Global Compact – the world’s largest corporate sustainability initiative – brought together business leaders from around the world to a roundtable at UN Headquarters in New York on Thursday, to find ways to address the stumbling blocks to gender equality.
There are many concrete examples of the private sector moving in a positive direction, with regard to gender equality, and tackling systemic sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace. These include the promotion of women’s representation on corporate boards, a demand for greater investment in companies owned by women, and a recognition that gender equality is a critical business issue.
Another powerful statement of intent is the CEO Statement of Support for the Women’s Empowerment Principles; an initiative of UN Global Compact and UN Women, which cover the range of ways that business can advance gender equality in the workplace. So far, over 2,000 global business leaders have signed up, and hundreds of companies around the world are using the Principles to inform their gender equality strategies.
Why the backlash?
However, resistance to gender equality initiatives has been identified as a problem that needs to be recognized and addressed. UN Global Compact has identified a number of reasons for the backlash.
These include a lack of understanding of the issue, which can occur when the business case for gender equality is not adequately explained; industry norms, where there is a persistent belief that some industries are better suited to either men or women; and fear of a loss of opportunities, status and position if there are gains made by women in the workplace.