Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : April 20th 2017 Contents APRIL 20 • 2017 guardian.co.tt BUSINESS GUARDIAN
COMMENTARY | BG13
By now it's a familiar cycle: Every
year, International Women's
Day elicits grand statements
from politicians and business
leaders about empowering
women and calls for greater
efforts to improve gender equality.
But the momentum generated in early March
often dissipates before April, so the same emp-
ty appeals are made once again a year later
without much having changed. It shouldn't
be this way.
Ensuring equal treatment for women is
beneficial to every aspect of our lives. From
day-to-day relationships to the way we run
our companies, we should always be aware
of the issue.
Any effort to advance gender equality must
start with basic equal rights. Women struggle
for equality every day, in every nation, in both
the developing and developed world. In many
places, women are still restricted in their ability
to make independent economic decisions, to
travel freely, to drive a car or to file for divorce.
And of the world's almost 800 million peo-
ple aged 15 and older who are illiterate, about
two-thirds are women, a proportion that hasn't
changed for two decades.
The struggle for equal rights extends all the
way to corporate boardrooms, where only 5.8
per cent of CEOs in the S&P 500 are women.
As long as women are excluded from leader-
ship positions, companies fail to draw from
the widest talent pool to ensure that the best
people are hired. That's unacceptable and ir-
The World Economic Forum predicts that the
gender gap---measured in health, education,
economic opportunity and political empower-
ment---won't close until 2186. That's 169 years
from now. In the same time span, humankind
went from the steam engine to Cassini's trip to
Saturn, and from carrier pigeons to the inter-
net. I'd like to think that we could achieve uni-
versal gender equality much faster than that.
And equality should not be considered just a
woman's issue, either. Everyone should be tak-
ing action to help achieve parity more quickly,
and we will all be far better off once we do.
One way to start is for governments to in-
troduce gender budgeting, which takes into
consideration the ways in which policies dif-
ferently affect men and women. We've ignored
this for far too long, but there are some great
examples of countries moving in the right
For instance, Rwanda's investments in basic
sanitation over the last several years have led to
better health and hygiene and have increased
the enrollment of more girls in schools. Aus-
tria has enacted reforms that adjust taxation
on secondary earners, which had previously
impeded the participation of women in the
And Sweden, as a pioneer in this field for over
a decade, has been marked as the best country
in the world for women. Gender equality re-
mains one of the cornerstones of the country's
society, which has seen its government repeat-
edly adjust its budget to address challenges
such as violence toward women and disparities
in pay and economic participation. In addition,
the five Scandinavian countries' legislation of
quotas for women on company boards seems
to have worked very well.
But it's not just our governments that can
foster effective change. Businesses can and
must do much more to promote equality,
respect and fairness. Removing barriers like
discrimination through education and training
is a necessity for business success. This can be
done through a variety of company policies,
from accommodating the parental demands
on both genders to leadership and mentoring
programmes for women.
I was particularly impressed to read an an-
nouncement in February from the Japanese
cosmetics giant Shiseido---which has main-
tained childcare facilities in their factories for
more than a decade---saying that they would
be helping other companies set up in-house
nurseries through a new venture. The move
helps to address the growing issue of wom-
en not having children in order to stay in the
The Sri Lankan-based apparel provider
MAS Holdings also sets a positive example
with its Women Go Beyond scheme, which
has enrolled women in classes on domestic
violence awareness, financial management
and computer literacy since 2003.
At Virgin, we know that the most successful
businesses are the ones that promote a climate
of diversity and inclusion. We recognize and
celebrate the amazing contributions that wom-
en are making in our workforce everyday, and
we know that we are a much better business
for it. Competing in quite a few sectors that
have been dominated by men for decades, many
of our businesses are now led by women and
employ women in senior roles. Virgin knows
that diversity is our strength.
But much remains to be done, and we have
identified a number of areas where we could
do better. Making gender equality a business
priority is the first step toward establishing
an environment where all people can thrive
because of who they are, not in spite of it.
As governments, businesses and individu-
als, we must work to foster inclusive markets
and societies. Standing up for gender equality
should be at the centre of this effort.
(Richard Branson is the founder of the Virgin
Group and companies such as Virgin Atlantic,
Virgin America, Virgin Mobile and Virgin Active.
He maintains a blog at www.virgin.com/richard-
branson/blog. You can follow him on Twitter
at twitter.com/richardbranson. To learn more
about the Virgin Group: www.virgin.com.)
(Questions from readers will be answered in
future columns. Please send them to Richard.
Branson@nytimes.com. Please include your
name, country, email address and the name of
the website or publication where you read the
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