Posted by Kirsten Newitt

Celebrating IWD 2023: Ergon’s recent work promoting gender equality

As we celebrate another International Women’s Day, the need for bold, wide-ranging action to address gender disparities remains an urgent priority, as women’s economic participation continues to lag significantly behind men’s across the world. New ILO data shows that women still have a much harder time finding a job than men: 15 per cent of working-age women globally would like to work but do not have a job, compared with 10.5 per cent of men. When women work, they are more likely to be present in lower-wage, precarious occupations and sectors. ILO data shows that for every dollar earned by men in labour income (taking into account both wages and earnings of the self-employed), women earn only 51 cents. This gap is even higher in lower- and lower-middle income countries, where women earn 33 and 29 cents on the dollar respectively.

It is thought that existing gender gaps in the labour market are likely to increase in coming years, exacerbated by the social and economic fall-out from the Covid-19 pandemic, rising inflation and geopolitical crises. The barriers to accessing better employment vary according to context, but include persistent gender norms, discrimination and gender-based violence and harassment, lack of access to formal child and elder care, and lack of appropriate transport. The challenges are even greater for women who also face discrimination on the grounds of other personal characteristics, such as age, disability, race, gender identity, sexual orientation, nationality, ethnicity, or migration status.

For these reasons (and more), a focus on gender equality and women’s economic empowerment remains at the heart of Ergon’s work and an ongoing priority for our clients. This International Women’s Day, we would like to spotlight some of the projects that we have carried out over the past year to support client efforts to promote gender equality.

Combatting gender-based violence and harassment in the workplace

Gender equality at work is reliant on the creation of safe and respectful workplaces that are free from harassment and violence for women and men alike. Nevertheless, gender-based violence and harassment remains prevalent in the world of work. The ILO Convention on Violence and Harassment (No. 190) – and its ratification by 25 countries – is an important advance in creating stronger legal protections for women; however, there is much that investors, brands and employers can do to prevent and address harassment in the workplace.

Ergon works closely with our development finance clients on how to identify and address GBVH risks during due diligence. This includes developing non-discriminatory, collaborative and context-specific due diligence and risk assessment procedures, introducing and enforcing company-level policies to prevent and address GBVH, carrying out regular and effective awareness raising and training across the workforce, and establishing gender-sensitive grievance mechanisms that foreground the needs and rights of survivors (i.e. those who have experienced GBVH).

Putting gender at the heart of Just Transition

There is increasing recognition of the need to ensure that gender equality concerns are deeply embedded in international efforts to address the climate crisis. Because women tend to be disproportionately affected by climate change and are over-represented in sectors that are particularly vulnerable to climate shocks, women’s leadership and participation in climate action is crucial in efforts to combat climate change. However, the transition to a green economy poses new challenges of inclusion and accessibility as women have largely been excluded from participation in green jobs.

Over the past year, Ergon has been working in the energy sector to better understand the challenges and opportunities faced by women entering green sectors around the world and share findings on international good practices. One such example is our work with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) on gender equality in Kazakhstan’s renewable energy sector, in partnership with Dr Aliya Ilyassova and EY Kazakhstan. This two-year project has involved conducting a baseline assessment to identify gaps in the sector with respect to women’s employment, entrepreneurship, skills and access to services, making recommendations to policy-makers, industry associations and companies, and working with these actors to implement recommendations and create change on the ground.

Boosting women’s participation in STEM and non-traditional sectors

Addressing women’s under-representation in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) is key to ensuring women’s more equal participation and leadership in combating climate change, as well as opening up opportunities to more better-paid job opportunities for women in the wider world of work.

Ergon’s recent study for the World Bank (carried out alongside LINK 011) on the energy and mining sectors in Serbia drew attention to women’s low participation rates in roles considered ‘non-traditional’; just 21% of the total workforce of surveyed companies in the Serbian energy and mining sector were women (compared to 25% of the energy sector workforce in Kazakhstan). Recommendations from Ergon’s study of the Serbian context include spotlighting women in senior positions and encouraging women to study STEM through offering equal opportunity outreach programmes or scholarships. The study was recently recapped in a World Bank blog.

Opportunities for women in the platform economy

The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is ‘innovation and technology for gender equality’. Technology is playing an increasingly important role in labour markets, particularly as digital labour platforms have experienced unprecedented growth as a means of sourcing labour and accessing employment. On the one hand, this poses risks for women’s empowerment as the platform economy is marked by occupational segregation, personal safety concerns, irregularity, instability and lack of regulation or association that render much platform work ‘invisible’. On the other, with the right safeguards in place, the technology that is built into platforms brings unique potential for women’s economic empowerment.

Ergon recently developed two company case studies that explored how platform work can facilitate women’s economic participation, as part of a wider study on workers at the base of the economic pyramid for the International Finance Corporation (IFC). One case study focused on Hogaru, a Colombian cleaning services company that provides its predominantly female workforce with direct employment and access to social security benefits, in an otherwise highly informal sector. The other case study focused on Evermos, an Indonesian social commerce platforms that has expanded self-employment opportunities for its mostly female micro-entrepreneur base, by reducing start-up costs for sales agents, offering skills training and providing flexible income-earning arrangements.

Gender and urban development

Understanding the drivers of gender inequality in urban environments is critical for future sustainable development, given that 56% of the world’s population currently live in cities, with this expected to rise to nearly 70% by 2050. We recently worked with IFC on a forthcoming study that provides new insights on barriers for women’s employment in the formal urban workforce, by interpreting primary data from surveys and interviews with 127 companies in Mumbai.