The EDGE Certification process promotes gender equality in the workplace. Setting global standards and using a business approach to gender equity makes a big difference, EDGE co-founder Aniela Unguresan told DW.
DW: Why did you set up a certification process for gender equality in companies?
Aniela Unguresan: If the topic of gender equality is to become a business critical cause, we need to find ways to tackle it in exactly the same way in which companies look at their business objectives.
We need to find a way to measure, to track progress, to gather the support of the entire leadership team and we need to create accountability for results. These are the four main characteristics that organizations are displaying when they pursue something that is vital for them. We need exactly the same in gender equality. And the certification system is based on a clear measurement, creates clear benchmarks and it creates transparency and accountability for results.
There is a considerable pay gap between men and women in all countries, and there is still a lack of women in management positions – that can be measured. Where do you see companies losing out when they don’t employ enough women?
More than half of all university graduates are women. So the nature of the talent pool available to companies has changed dramatically over the years to be more gender balanced. Women are consumers, women are investors and women have an important influence buying products in industries with traditional male buyers.
When companies fail to reproduce inside the organization the diversity of the world in which companies operate, they fail to understand the trends, the desires of their consumers. They fail to attract the best and the brightest – who are now half men, half women. They lose out on an incredible potential, and not just economically. They also lose out on capacity for innovation.
So you believe it actually makes business sense for a company to have gender equity?
Yes, it does make business sense. We can’t go as far as saying that companies with a gender balance have a better economic performance. But we can definitely say that companies with a diverse and inclusive workplace culture have something that positions them to be more successful in a sustainable way.
How do you work with companies to start the certification process?
The certification system is based on four main pillars, and those are measured and assessed.
First, we look at the gender balance in a company’s talent pipeline. We are not only looking at what’s going on in gender balance at the senior level of a company, but also how a company is grooming a gender-diverse pool of talent throughout their different levels of responsibility: how they hire, how they promote and how they retain people at different management levels.
The second aspect is [looking at] unexplained gender pay gaps for similar positions.
The third pillar is the effectiveness of policies and practices that ensures equal career flow for men and women. The keyword here is effectiveness. So we are not merely interested in what companies try to put in place to create gender equality, like flexible work times or other measures. It’s not policies or practices that create a change; people in an organization also have to know about these policies, they need to feel safe to use them.
And the fourth pillar is a bottom-up view of the organization: how the men and women working there feel about their career development opportunities. Looking at [a company’s] rating when it comes to equitable chances of being hired, promoted and about being paid fairly, and their propensity to recommend the organization to a male or female colleague.
We also do an employee survey asking people in the organization about their experiences. And that’s crucial, because the subjective experience in an organization will be the main driver for our engagement in the workplace. And that will influence our performance.
And based on these pillars, you recommend measures that a company can take to change?
Yes, between the intent of an organization and what’s being perceived, and the actual impact, there is already a very interesting analysis of some of the root causes of why things are going the way they’re going. And like with everything, it’s important not to treat the symptoms but the underlying causes.
What’s also very important is showing companies that what they’re doing now compares to what their peers are doing, either in the same country or the same industry. But it’s also very useful to compare with the “best in class” when it comes to gender equality. Companies want to be held accountable to excellence in what they do.
After a company has been certified, do you also go back and regularly monitor and audit any changes?
Yes, EDGE is a peer certification system. There are three different levels, because it takes time before a company actually fully reaches the global gender equality standard. The certification is granted over a two-year period. Every third year, companies go through the process to maintain their certification level. And for the companies that get started in the first or second level, to make sure they can move on to the next level.
What would a company have to do to get fully certified? Must it fulfill certain standards – for instance, always having a 50-50 workforce?
It’s not always about 50-50. Organizations and talent pools are very different across industries. But what organizations have to show is that given the talent pool in a certain country and industry, the percentage of women in junior managerial position [should correspond] all the way up.
For instance, if you have 50-50 percent men and women at the entry level, then you should have at least 30 percent at the executive level. There should also be a solid framework of effective policies and practices that ensure equitable career flows for men and women. Men and women in the organization must feel they are given fair opportunities.
Do you see a true shift in attitudes towards the importance of equity for women?
The fact that this topic has become so prominent in the public opinion, the fact that legislators across the world are now enforcing equal pay, does help a lot.
When it comes to the organizations, having leaders who are truly passionate about this topic, in the same way their revenues keep them awake at night, also helps. [That attitude] then migrates to the heart of the organization.
To give you an example: we work with a company that builds oil rigs and provides equipment for the oil industry. The CEO of this company is very clear about the vital importance of gender equality, and his management team stands behind this goal.They had a client in Saudi Arabia, a very important platform construction project, and they brought in a young female engineer from the US. When the client in Saudi Arabia saw that the leader of this very important project was a woman, he refused to work with her. And the company said, “We are very sorry. If you are not able to accept this project lead, we will not be able to serve you. Because this person is the best person to do the job.” The client finally accepted to have this person oversee the project, and the project was a success.
We would like to see more of this. I think there are many more of these phenomenal stories we don’t know about, because people feel it’s safer to do it under the radar. But the more we talk about these stories, the more people will be inspired and empowered.
What inspired you personally to do this?
I was extremely lucky in my own career. I felt I was always evaluated on my outcomes and outputs, I was sponsored early on and had access to mentors – that also created a sense of loyalty to the organizations I worked for. But when I looked around, the kind of empowerment and support I received was an exception. So I thought – is there something we can change?
How fast do you think can we close the gender gap?
The World Economic Forum said last year it will take 118 years to close the pay gap. So it will take time, several generations. But the question is what can we do now, and to keep moving.
Aniela Unguresan is the co-founder of the EDGE (Economic Dividends for Gender Equity) Certified Foundation.
Based in Switzerland, the organization assesses and promotes gender equity mechanisms for companies. The certification methodology uses a business approach to gender equality and was launched at the World Economic Forum in 2011.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.