How the EDGE Business Certification for Gender Equality is a Game Changer for Business and for Working Culture

By Aniela Unguresan

The achievement of gender equality in the workplace will improve culture, behaviours, profitability and productivity. Globally women generate 37% of global GDP despite accounting for just 50% of the working aged population. Research reports are consistently finding that organisations that have women in their leadership teams gain competitive edge and significant business benefits. 

 

They say timing is everything, and it feels very much like now is the right time to accelerate progress to achieving gender equality in the workplace. Controversies and recent coverage in the media have helped fuel the growing debate on gender equality issues and over the last year have probably devoted more band-width to this subject than ever before. Similarly, academic research is increasingly being published on the subject, confirming with data what we at EDGE already know, that organisations with more women in their top teams outperform those that do not. CEOs are increasingly being scrutinised on the issue and some are finally listening and hearing things to their advantage, such as the startling fact that by advancing women’s equality, global GDP would increase by $12 trillion.¹ Sometimes societal and demographic trends intersect around certain events, for example the shock election results which did not produce the first female U.S. President as expected, can wake people from their torpor and galvanise them to address an issue – one which has profound economic and societal benefits. We call it, The Gender Dividend.

CEOs are  finally listening and hearing things to their advantage, such as the startling fact that by advancing women’s equality, global GDP would increase by $12 trillion.

When we launched the EDGE Certified Foundation in 2009 it coincided with  McKinsey publishing the first studies on when women thrive, and showed positive correlations between performance and a better gender balance in organisations. The awareness around the importance of gender equality for the health and wealth of organisations and societies was mounting. We realised that the only way to create sustainable change around workplace gender equality was to look at it in the same way as any other business topic. Therefore, we need to have a clear system in place to measure current status and progress, accountability, results and most importantly to set standards of excellence. We knew that if businesses applied the same rigour and discipline in pursuing workplace gender equality as they did in pursuing critical business goals, they would achieve sustainable progress. 

The challenge we were faced with, when designing the EDGE methodology, was how to measure gender in the workplace in a consistent way across different industries and geographies. That was our ambition from the very beginning, recognising that every organisation is unique and has its own strengths and opportunities for improvement when it comes to gender balance. However, we realised that there were two universal, underlying principles that held for everybody: the need to attract, develop, retain and motivate a richer and deeper talent pool, not only half of it, and the growing need of both men and women to live and work differently, “smarter”, in the 21st century.

We spent two years understanding how to measure gender in the workplace consistently across geographies and industries. We then launched the concept of the EDGE certification at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January 2011. A further two years were spent refining the certification system such as incorporating three tiers to recognise commitment and impact and to reflect our philosophy of continuous improvement. 

The first EDGE Certified companies were announced in October 2013 with six companies from four different industries. Today EDGE’s footprint is far larger; we are working with more than 170 organisations in 48 different countries and in 23 different industries. Some of the most recent certifications include the International Monetary Fund, Capgemini, Zurich Insurance and Elsevier.

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Once clients commit to becoming EDGE Certified, their workforce data, policies and practice and employee perceptions are measured and assessed against the four pillars that define success in gender equality: strong gender balance at all levels of the organisation, equal pay for equivalent work irrespective of gender, a robust framework of effective gender equality policies and practices and an inclusive culture. Of these four pillars, the biggest gap is often seen in pay equity. Some years ago, there was a lot of anxiety and apprehension around conducting analyses of pay, particularly in the United States. There was concern about the potential of litigation caused by this type of exercise and this created serious obstacles for the advancement of the conversation on pay equity. Fortunately, this is no longer the case because we have seen leaders in the corporate world, such as Marc Benioff of Salesforce, speak publicly about their commitment to proactively managing pay equity. It is no coincidence that women are speaking out and protesting over pay gaps and that governments, including the United Kingdom have tightened the regulatory framework to compel larger organisations to report on their pay gap.

Increasing paternity leave and shifting working culture to one in which men and women are equally encouraged to take time off from work will continue to be a differentiator for the best companies.

At the same time, there is a growing realisation that gender equality has far reaching benefits for society. For example, increasing paternity leave and shifting working culture to one in which men and women are equally encouraged to take time off from work will continue to be a differentiator for the best companies. Women will be less stigmatised for becoming mothers when parents of both genders are seen as providers and caretakers. In a world where dual-income households are becoming the norm, a study by EY² found that 78% of millennials have a working spouse, compared to 47% of baby boomers and that they are willing “to make tough choice and sacrifices to better manage work and home”; it’s out of step that companies continue to by and large operate with policies that were setup in the middle of the last century. We are living longer and working longer, our careers are marathons and not sprints, the years, when our children are small and parents are at their most stretched, are relatively few, so those employers that provide cultures that recognise this and provide support, will be rewarded with high staff retention and loyalty.

What are the global trends on progress towards gender equality, we know many countries are already gaining competitive edge here, but what of others? The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index benchmarks 144 countries and this year’s report states that, despite the increased focus on gender issues, the overall picture shows that “gender parity has shifted into reverse this year, for the first time since the World Economic Forum started measuring it”³ in 2006. The gap between men and women on economic participation remains wide: only 58% of the gap has been closed. There is of course a more diverse picture when we consider progress by country; region by region, and this year the Index has ten countries that have closed more than 80% of the overall gender gap, up from five last year. Yet, some countries and companies are failing to capitalise on the talents of highly qualified women, this is reflected in the lack of promotion opportunities and career progression into leadership roles. Talent is at the heart of global growth and economic competitiveness and there needs to be greater efforts to seek it in non-traditional places. Given current trends the Index 3 reported that the overall gender gap will be closed in exactly 100 years, that’s by 2117.

Some countries and companies are failing to capitalise on the talents of highly qualified women, this is reflected in the lack of promotion opportunities and career progression into leadership roles.

Our vision at EDGE is to create a world of equal opportunities far sooner than by 2117, a world where men and women are equally valued and respected in all aspects of economic, political and social life. Our mission is to use the EDGE Certification System and EDGE Seal to engage companies all over the world to catalyse this change and ensure equal opportunities for men and women: one in which the EDGE Seal represents the global standard of excellence of this. Evidence increasingly suggests that Generation Y and Millennials expect their employers to offer autonomy, flexibility, diverse colleagues, a balanced work/home life, and portfolio careers with a focus on development opportunities. Organisations that bear the EDGE Seal will attract and retain talent and embue loyalty amongst a workforce that is increasingly different to their predecessors in their needs and expectations.

In a world of disruptive business models, agility to adapt to new situations is key. It comes from a diversity of approaches, thinking styles and of course this comes from a diversity of backgrounds, from working in organisations that are as diverse as the world we live in. 

We live in a world that is roughly 50/50. We all believe that talent and intelligence is equally spread across the population, yet if we keep tapping into less than 50 percent of that talent pool, how can we leverage this potential? In a world of disruptive business models, agility to adapt to new situations is key. But where does this agility come from? It comes from a diversity of approaches, thinking styles and of course this comes from a diversity of backgrounds, from working in organisations that are as diverse as the world we live in. It’s crucial for organisations to mirror the reality of the world and to provide a working culture that reflects the aspirations of their employees and respects their differences.

 

EDGE CERTIFICATION

EDGE Certification is the world’s leading business certification standard for workplace gender equality, applicable across industries and geographical regions.

How to be EDGE Certified:

1. An online assessment – the EDGE Assessment Tool™ – draws upon three sources of information from an organisation.

2. Organisations benchmark themselves against the EDGE Standard and against peers. The benchmark serves as the basis of an impactful action plan.

3. Following a successful independent audit by a third-party certification body, the organisation receives the EDGE Certification Seal – in one of three levels.

4. Public display of the EDGE Certification Seal sends a clear message of commitment to the organisation’s stakeholders; employees, potential employees, investors and consumers.

 

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About the Author

Aniela Unguresan is Co-Founder of the EDGE Certified Foundation, the leading global assessment methodology and business certification standard for Gender Equality. Prior to co-founding EDGE Certified Foundation, Aniela acquired extensive professional experience as a consultant with Arthur Andersen and Andersen Consulting, as a trader and project manager with TXU Europe and SIG Geneva, and as the CEO of CT Technologies. She holds an MBA from the University of Geneva and a BA in International Trade from the Bucharest Academy of Economic Studies.

References:

1. McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) Report)

2. EY “A Global Study on Work Life Challenges Across Generations”.

3. The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index 2017

(The Index was established to address the need for a consistent and comprehensive measure for gender equality that can track a country’s progress over time.)

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