How IFC is helping gender equality to gain momentum among Pacific businesses

Women on a bus in Papua New Guinea. Photo by: Marc Dozier / UN Women / CC BY-NC-ND

CANBERRA — Through the EDGE, or Economic Dividends for Gender Equality, certification — a global assessment and business certification for gender equality — 120 companies and institutions, including the Asian Development Bank, IKEA, L’Oréal, SAP, and Stella McCartney, are building awareness of gender disparity, and creating more opportunities for women in their organizations.

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Interest both within the World Bank Group and among investors in investing in programs, policies, and businesses that seek to address key gender gaps has grown in the past year, Henriette Kolb, the head of the International Finance Corporation’s gender secretariat, told Devex in a recent interview.

The certification is not only for global corporations, however. It is being promoted and supported in developing countries as a means of building awareness on the gender divide as well as other challenges faced by women — including child care and domestic violence. With the assistance of the International Finance Corporation, NCS, the largest catering and camp management in Papua New Guinea, became the first company in the country to be EDGE certified last week.

Across the Pacific, IFC is just getting started in building gender awareness and transforming the way the private sector works with women.

What is EDGE?

EDGE certification evaluates the workplace gender equality performance of an organization against global and industry benchmarks.

First, a company measures where it stands using the EDGE gender assessment methodology, which draws on workplace experience and perceptions through an employee survey, as well as organizational data, policies, and practices.

The company then benchmarks itself against the EDGE Gender Standard and peer companies and organizations.

“The benchmark serves as a basis for an action plan,” Thomas Jacobs, IFC’s Pacific country manager, explained to Devex. “After a successful independent audit by a third-party certification body, the company receives one of the three levels of the EDGE Gender Certification Seal. This process typically takes around six months.”

The certification is usually valid for two years, at the end of which time a company needs to be reassessed by the independent auditors in order to retain the certification.

Bringing the gender discussion to developing countries

For IFC, this approach is important in working with countries where large gender gaps exist.

“A clear part of IFC’s mandate is to build the business case for gender equality in the workplace by demonstrating how it can drive productivity, profitability, and performance,” Jacobs said. “We advise the private sector how to promote gender equality. And as part of that, we present the EDGE gender certification, the world’s leading global assessment and business certification for gender equality, as one of the tools they can use to pursue it.”

This is particularly key in countries such as PNG, which ranks 143rd out of 159 countries in the United Nations Development Programme’s gender inequality index. An estimated 2 out of 3 women in PNG are affected by domestic violence.

In supporting NCS to receive the EDGE certification, IFC helped the company put a policy regarding domestic violence  in place and train a team of staff to respond to disclosures of domestic violence.

“We also helped NCS build a pipeline of female leaders through leadership courses, as well as set up a staff mentoring program across multiple worksites and worked with the company to help create opportunities for women in male-dominated roles,” Jacobs said.

Beyond the important social impact of drawing awareness to the challenges facing women, IFC can encourage participation through demonstrable business benefits.

“The EDGE gender certification provides a competitive advantage by positioning a company or organization as a gender equal environment to work in, invest in, and do business with,” Jacobs said. “Investing in women also helps companies retain staff, improve productivity, and ultimately increases the companies’ bottom line. That’s an important factor in countries where there are skills shortages. You want companies to retain their best employees — whether they are men or women.”

The NCS experience

Headquartered in the country’s capital Port Moresby, NCS employs 680 women as part of a workforce of 1,300. They became aware of EDGE certification through IFC and their work encouraging gender equality among the business community.

While the EDGE process generally takes six months, it was longer for NCS because the company was focused on not only achieving certification, but also in implementing meaningful change for their organization.

According to Violet Aopi, manager of the human resources department at NCS, the process of being certified involved ensuring their policies and procedures were “more gender sensitive” to provide equal opportunities to all employees.

“This could not have been achieved without actively involving our employees as part of the process through various staff meetings, as well as coordinating awareness programs,” she told Devex. “Practical advice from IFC on issues such as family and sexual violence policy guidelines meant that we were able to prepare our employees for the changes. And as part of the process, we also sent high-potential female staff to a leadership and management course to prepare them to take on supervisory and management roles within [the] company.”

A key benefit for female employees of NCS, Aopi said, was building more awareness of the opportunities available to them, “including in leadership roles and in roles traditionally held by men,” she said.

“The policies and training has also given women confidence and a certain level of self-awareness about their work performance. Most of the women who attended the leadership training have returned to work with a very different outlook on how to handle their work tasks and, as a result, has led to promotions for some.”

Through the process, Aopi said NCS has learnt that developing policies around gender equality can promote and retain potential and top talent. And they are hopeful that the certification will support new business opportunities.

Still, she advised that any organization seeking EDGE certification will need to pursue their own unique journey in understanding the gender divide and challenges that exist within their walls.

“Every organization is different and improvements and changes in practices must also be tailored to suit the management, teams, and the employees,” Aopi explained. “I would recommend communicating with staff about the current policies and procedures in place and taking on the feedback received from these sessions as a starting point for reviewing policies and procedures.”

Future directions for gender at IFC

According to Jacobs, IFC’s work supporting organizations to achieve EDGE certification has shown improved transparency and positive change across organizations.

“What gets measured gets done,” he said. “We are confident that the impact of EDGE gender certification is positive to both businesses and their employees.”

Across IFC’s support network, there are currently five companies in three geographic regions — Africa, Asia, and Latin America — that are expected to undergo the EDGE gender assessment in 2018.

And there are big plans expansion of their gender work across the Pacific.

“We are already expanding the work that we did on the EDGE gender certification of NCS in Papua New Guinea across East Asia and the Pacific,” Jacobs said. “We have already started working with one of the largest companies in Solomon Islands, three of the largest companies in Myanmar, and a construction company in Papua New Guinea. We are also looking to Fiji later this year.”  

In addition to EDGE gender work, IFC works with companies in the region to provide tailored solutions to address high rates of absenteeism and turnover, develop approaches to support staff impacted by domestic violence, and offer advice on the potential benefits to employers of providing child care support.  

“We know that no country, community, or economy can achieve its potential or meet the challenges of the 21st century without the full and equal participation of women and men,” Jacobs said. “And we recognize that when companies and people — no matter what their gender — can reach their full potential, that’s a benefit to families, communities, and countries.”

About the author

  • Lisa Cornish

    Lisa Cornish is a Senior Reporter based in Canberra, where she focuses on the Australian aid community. Lisa formerly worked with News Corp Australia as a data journalist for the national network and was published throughout Australia in major metropolitan and regional newspapers, including the Daily Telegraph in Melbourne, Herald Sun in Melbourne, Courier-Mail in Brisbane, and online through Lisa additionally consults with Australian government providing data analytics, reporting and visualization services. Lisa was awarded the 2014 Journalist of the Year by the New South Wales Institute of Surveyors.