Breaking the glass ceiling

Farzana Chowdhury | Published: November 05, 2018 20:36:08 | Updated: November 05, 2018 21:47:33

FARZANA CHOWDHURY: "In a country where the Speaker, Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition all are women, the corporate world should follow a decent gender-equality policy."

"I raise up my voice - not so I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard Malala Yousafzai

When we talk about empowerment of women, it is about equality of women to men. Women have the right to work alongside men in the workplace, society and family. Women and men are partners rather than rivals. If we say women don't need the support of men then we're wrong! Men support women in every stages of life. As a father, brother, husband, friend or a co-worker women need men in different phases of lives. The same goes for men, they need women's support in every phase of their lives as well. They also need mothers, sisters, daughters, wives, female friends and colleagues - maybe a bit more than women need them. The art of coexistence is something every man and woman should learn.

Green Delta Insurance Company (GDIC), for example, upholds the principle of gender equality at workplace. About 27 per cent of GDIC employees are at present females. It is planned that by 2021 the ratio will be 50:50. Female participation in insurance industry is quite low. GDIC is trying to create awareness regarding the insurance industry to encourage female to join insurance business through career fair, job seminar, mock interviews etc. It ensures equal opportunities to both men and women employees in terms of career growth, company policies, trainings, benefits, new exposures, safety etc. Even sexual harassment policy has been developed to look into the interest of both male and female employees. The company puts thrust on performance-based appraisal system rather than gender-based one. There is maternity benefit for both female and male (spouse) employees. Six-month maternity leave is allowed to encourage female employees to continue with their jobs. Office from home/flexible hours' benefits are allowed for them for certain period of time. Female employees also have GD female forum for raising opinions on development and company betterment issues.

GDIC follows Seven Women Empowerment Principles. These are:

  • Establish high-level corporate leadership for gender equality: According to Bangladesh Labour Force Survey 2010, labour force participation for women is 36 per cent, compared to 82.5 per cent for men. Still, the rate is higher than the South Asian average of 35 per cent. But corporate houses are not always the best places to glorify gender equality. Usually around 30-35 per cent of the total employees of the average organisations are women. Very rarely we find organisations that have a ratio of 50:50, portraying strong practice of gender equality. Also the leading positions are occupied mostly by men. Somehow most of the corporates are not yet ready to see a female chief executive officer (CEO) or a department head. The deserving women need to work twice as hard as men to be in the leading position. In a country where the Speaker, Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition all are women, the corporate world should follow a decent gender-equality policy.
  • Treat all women and men fairly at work-respect and support human rights and non-discrimination: When we say we want to see gender equality at workplace, we mean men and women both should get the same treatment from the management. The practice of recruiting only females as an MD's Personal Secretary and recruiting only males as Sales Officers need to change. Women should come forward and apply for more challenging positions like Marketing, Finance, Brands, IT etc. But an organisation should create the environment which encourages both the males and females to apply for non-conventional jobs.
  • Ensure the health, safety and well-being of all women and men workers: Women healthcare and safety should be treated with great importance. At the same time, men should get the same treatment. Both physical and mental health are crucial for the well-being of an employee. In western countries, working from home is a widely accepted concept. Employees often work from home when they are physically unfit to come to work. The practice should be popularised in our country as well. Women need it more than men, specially during pregnancy and political unrest. If the employer is result-oriented then it shouldn't be a problem as long as an employee meets all his/her deliverables in due time.
  • Promote education, training and professional development for women: Eleanor Roosevelt once said, "A woman is like a tea bag, you never know how strong she is unless you put her in hot water". An organisation needs to believe in the potential of a woman. There should be scope for capacity building. Need-based trainings should be arranged. There's a tendency among the employers in Bangladesh to avoid thinking long-term for a woman as many women stop working after their marriage or giving birth to the first child. But if a woman decides to stay on the job but the employer decides not to train her up for professional development then it's not going to bring any good result either for the woman employee or the employer. 
  • Implement enterprise development, supply chain and marketing practices that empower women: An organisation should empower and engage women positively throughout the value chain. The marketing collaterals and promotional materials should never demean the role of a woman rather support her to contribute more for the company she works for. There was a time when marketers in Bangladesh had the liberty to objectify women to sell products without considering its effects on society. These days marketers are more careful as empowering women in the marketing collaterals seems to work better than the older strategy. It is a positive sign that the mindset of the people in general are changing.
  • Promote equality through community initiatives and advocacy: Gender equality should be promoted by organisations through strong community initiatives and advocacy. The community should be engaged in uplifting equality in family, society and workplace. Inequality issues should be brought under the notice of the concerned authorities and public dialogues need to be held to discuss the ideas to eradicate discrimination against women.  
  • Measure and publicly report on progress to achieve gender equality: A company should make public its policies as well as implementation plans for promotion of gender equality. Transparency should be there while measuring and reporting on progress. The companies should focus on setting standards for other companies and set Gender Equality Goals.

If we want to bring about a significant positive change regarding women empowerment, we'll need to work for the elimination of the male superiority and patriarchal mindset. Also, equal opportunities should be given to women for education and employment without any discrimination. The Seven Women Empowerment Principles are a key to a better understanding of the need to eliminate chauvinistic mindset in order to promote gender equality.

Farzana Chowdhury is the managing director & CEO of Green Delta Insurance Ltd. She is one of the ten local sustainable development goals (SDG) pioneers recognised by UNGC for working towards women's economic security. She is setting benchmarks in the field of gender equality

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