According to Bart Slob, CSR Manager at CBI, women and men don’t have equal opportunities in many developing countries, where gender inequality is mainly cultural. “It is harder to break through cultural traditions where women have a lower place in society than men. CBI starts by making sure female entrepreneurs have access to our market intelligence and Export Coaching Programmes.”
Gender inequality differs per region. Latin American countries, like Argentina, Chile and Brazil lead the way, with female presidents and business leaders, while African and Asian countries lag behind slightly. It also differs per industry. “Traditionally, more women work in sectors like textiles, consumer goods and home decoration, but less in industry.”
Gender equality can start early. In job interviews men tend to overstate their abilities so they start off with higher salaries. “It can be a problem in developing countries where women bring up the children and do nearly all the household chores. Women earn less than men but work harder, at work and at home.” But Slob is convinced that government policy will be the real driver of change and that gender equality will help exporters. Some European buyers apply gender criteria when selecting suppliers, sometimes even deliberately opting for companies run by women, he says.
Employing more women than men, doesn’t necessarily mean a company is addressing gender inequality, insists Slob. Up to 90 per cent of employees in garment factories are women, for example. “Other factors must be taken into account. A company might hire women because men won’t accept the working conditions or low pay.”
Gender equality can also have other benefits. According to research SMEs run by women have a better working environment, are more productive and have less industrial accidents and less corruption. “These are hard facts,” says Slob. “What’s more, banks are more likely to extend loans to companies run by women.”
But gender equality is complex and Europe must find ways to prevent gender-based discrimination, concludes Slob. It’s currently an issue in Europe and will soon become one in developing countries too. “European countries like Sweden, Germany and Switzerland are leading the way and developing countries wanting to export to Europe must follow. At CBI we are developing a gender strategy and preparing SMEs for gender expectations. We have an internal think tank on gender and we are advised by gender experts. We will also pilot a gender-coaching programme in three developing countries, to see which instruments tackle gender inequality most effectively. It’s important because a balanced workforce translates to quality and efficiency.”> Read the full article