Moving from ‘why’ to ‘how’ at the 2015 UN WEPs event

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On March 10, the UN Headquarters in New York City brimmed with palpable, contagious energy. Global leaders representing businesses, governments, and civil society gathered in an iconic UN Chamber to attend the first day of the Annual United Nations Women’s Empowerment Principles Event.
 
This year’s convocation, which ran parallel to the 59th session of the Commission on the Status of Women, was aptly titled Unlimited Potential: Business Partners for Gender Equality. There was one clear theme: Investing in women is good for business and development, but how can we move from “why” to “how”?
 
As I made my way through the chamber to represent the World Bank Group, I reflected on companies that I know have benefited materially from gender-smart policies. For one, I saw the case for investing in women translate into concrete gains in Vietnam with garment manufacturer Nalt Enterprise. Participating in the Better Work program, an IFC – International Labour Organization partnership, Nalt reduced staff turnover by one-third after it established an onsite kindergarten for its employees’ children. This saved the company more than $90,000 per year!
 
As a panelist in the event’s opening roundtable, Not Business as Usual, I made the case for gender while explaining that making the “why”—principles—into a “how”—a program for action—requires three “I”s: initiatives, investment, and information. Below are some examples of what IFC, the member of the World Bank Group focused on private sector development, is delivering under each category.
 
Initiatives: IFC leads SheWorks, a private sector partnership launched by World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim. The partnership brings together top companies to share best practices and policies for advancing women’s employment. Such measures include conducting gender assessments among specific firms, promoting women into executive and board roles, and providing flexible work arrangements. At this year’s WEPs event, IFC organized a SheWorks panel involving partners Care.com, Gap Inc., SAP SE, and the EDGE Certified Foundation—all of which shared critical business case experiences and lessons learned. 
 
Investment: With technical and financial assistance from IFC, Sri Lanka’s MAS Holdings, a garment-industry client, has expanded its product portfolio and boosted exports, thereby creating new jobs—particularly for women. With strategic investments, IFC has also moved forward women’s access to finance by investing in 29 Banking on Women projects in nearly 20 countries with commitments totaling $800 million.
 
Information: IFC/World Bank Group research efforts, including Women, Business and the Law, Data2X, and IFC’s Enterprise Finance Gap Assessment Database, collect sex-disaggregated data to better understand and address gender gaps. Equally important are partnerships such as SheWorks, which allow companies to share experiences and learn from mistakes so that they and others can scale what works.
 
It was a proud moment for IFC and an example of our commitment to working with clients that share our vision when client Schneider Electric won this year’s WEPs CEO Leadership Award for its own efforts to fully include women as employees and executives. We look forward to more collaboration with clients like Schneider.
 
WEPs also affirmed men’s roles in gender inclusion. The event gave male CEOs the chance to commit to further action. BLC Bank CEO Maurice Sehnaoui spoke of his company’s IFC-supported program to better address women as consumers and its goal of achieving full gender parity in management by 2020. And I could feel rising momentum when Jean-Pascal Tricoire, CEO and Chairman of Schneider Electric, said, “To achieve gender equality we have to go beyond good intentions and make it happen.”

Authors

Karin Finkelston

Vice President for Global Partnerships, IFC

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