The low representation of women in high leadership positions is not big news. As a male-dominated industry, shipping has been a representative example of businesses lacking gender equality. Women’s empowerment is a key sustainable development goal officially recognized by the United Nations. But what is the role of business in promoting gender equality and helping build a more diversified world?
In a bid to address the issue, the UN Global Compact and UN Women joined forces in 2010 to issue the Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs), a set of Principles guiding businesses on how to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment in the workplace, marketplace and community.
The 7 Principles
1. Establish high-level corporate leadership
Corporate leadership is an integral part of making women’s empowerment a top strategic priority. Suggested actions for organizations include:
- Embed values of gender equality into your business values plan and culture.
- Establish company-wide targets for gender equality and measure progress through clear performance indicators.
- Make managers at all levels accountable for results against these goals through their performance reviews.
- Engage and consult internal and external stakeholders in the development of company policies, programmes and implementation plans.
- Ensure that existing policies are gender-sensitive
- Review the requirements for board membership, and other governance bodies and committees, to remove any discrimination or bias against women.
2. Treat all women and men fairly at work without discrimination
Removing all forms of discrimination in corporate policies is a solid step forward in a company’s WEPs journey, often translating into higher employee retention and increased productivity. Suggested actions include:
- Pay equal work remuneration, including benefits and bonuses, for all women and men employees (find more about the gender pay gap here).
- Foster an inclusive workplace culture and remove gender-based discrimination from all policies and practices.
- Implement gender-sensitive recruitment, especially for managerial and executive positions.
- Offer flexible working arrangements, leave and re-entry opportunities to positions of equal pay and status.
- Support women and men’s access to child and dependent care through services, resources and information.
3. Employee health, well-being and safety
Maintaining and promoting physical and emotional health, safety and wellbeing of employees is a key priority of business leadership. Suggested actions include:
- Establish internal policies preventing all forms of violence and sexual harassment at work.
- Ensure all employees’ equal access to health insurance, and support services for survivors of violence and harassment.
- Respect people’s rights to time off for medical care and counseling.
- Provide safe working conditions and protection from exposure to hazardous materials and disclose potential risks, including to reproductive health.
- Address safety and security issues, including traveling to/from work and business trips, and train security staff and managers to recognize signs of violence.
4. Education and training for career advancement
Effective programmes to support women’s professional advancement include education and training that is complemented by networking and mentoring programmes.
- Invest in workplace policies and programmes that open avenues for women’s advancement.
- Encourage women to enter nontraditional job fields and revenue-generating roles.
- Ensure equal access to all company-supported education and training.
- Provide equal opportunities for formal and informal networking and mentoring programmes.
- Conduct sexual harassment and unconscious bias training and awareness raising on the corporate gender equality policy and action plan.
5. Enterprise development, supply chain and marketing practices
Advertising is a powerful tool to change perceptions and impact social norms –portraying women and men in modern, authentic and multidimensional roles. Suggested actions:
- Require business partners, contractors and suppliers to adopt the WEPs.
- Establish supplier diversity programmes that actively seek to expand business relationships with women-owned enterprises and support them in access.
- Support gender-sensitive solutions to women’s barriers to accessing financial products and services.
- Ensure that company products, services and facilities are not used for human trafficking and/or labour or sexual exploitation.
- Remove harmful gender-based stereotypes in all media and advertising and systematically depict women and men as empowered actors with progressive, intelligent and multi-dimensional personalities.
6. Community initiatives and advocacy
Companies are increasingly investing in community development programmes to make valuable, effective and responsible contributions to gender equality and women’s empowerment. A key motivation is to respond to consumer preferences to buy from companies with gender-responsive business practices and who are actively supporting community initiatives.
- Lead by example by showcasing concrete actions to advance gender equality and women’s empowerment.
- Leverage influence, alone or in partnership, to advance gender equality and collaborate with business partners, suppliers and community leaders to achieve results.
- Work with community stakeholders and officials to eliminate discrimination and exploitation and to open opportunities for women and girls.
- Promote and recognize women’s leadership in, and contributions to, their communities and ensure their active participation in community consultation.
- Use philanthropy and grants programmes to support community initiatives.
7. Measurement and reporting
Transparency and accountability are required for companies to uphold their commitments to gender equality in the workplace, marketplace and community. Measuring and reporting mechanisms are crucial to monitor and track performance and progress. Business leaders and stakeholders agree that while not everything of value can be counted, it is difficult to manage what is not measured.
- Take the WEPs Gap Analysis Tool to establish a baseline for WEPs implementation.
- Develop incentives and mechanisms to accelerate WEPs implementation.
- Collect, analyze and use gender statistics and sex-disaggregated data and benchmarks to measure and report results at all levels.
- Report annually on progress in the implementation of the WEPs
- Share lessons learned and best practices in the implementation of the WEPs.
What about women empowerment in shipping?
In an era striving for gender equality, shipping seems to be lagging behind in promoting women and other genders to leadership positions. This impedes the exchange of diversified ideas, thus creativity, efficiency and industry attractiveness, while constituting a human rights violation. To address the issue, several industry players initiate actions that would promote more women in the sector.
In late 2022, Mitsui O.S.K. Lines, Ltd. announced its endorsement of the WEPs. A bit later, IMO and WISTA International created the Maritime Speakers Bureau platform, intending to end the tradition of all-male speaking panels, and more than one hundred women leaders had registered as speakers by the end of the year.
In the smart era, the shipping industry can leverage technology to advance women’s empowerment by providing access to digital platforms, resources, and tools that can help women succeed in the workplace. It can also increase the participation of women in decision-making by providing them with mentorship and leadership opportunities, as well as creating a culture of collaboration and inclusivity.
Informed by international labor and human rights standards, WEPs are a primary vehicle for corporate delivery on gender equality dimensions of the 2030 agenda and the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The principles can also inform other stakeholders, including governments, as they engage with business. If you work in shipping, you may invite your CEO, or equivalent, to sign the CEO Statement of Support for the WEPs.
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