The gender equality conversation is one that we at P&G – and as the world – have been having for a few years now, in the public arena and even at home. Much progress has been made; however, the impacts of the global health crisis have placed immense strain on women, significantly setting back the gender equality agenda.
According to Anita Bhatia, the Assistant Secretary-General & UN Women’s Deputy Director for Resource Management, UN System Coordination, Sustainability & Partnerships, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has potentially wiped out nearly 25 years of gender equality progress. Bhatia was speaking as a panelist at the P&G #WeSeeEqual Summit held digitally this February, where she also mentioned that the disparity experienced by women before COVID-19 has almost doubled, with many dropping out of the labour force to take care of family members.
At P&G, we have invested in various campaigns and partnerships that drive the gender equality agenda. With WEConnect International, we coach, train and upskill female entrepreneurs and I would like to see how we can develop this even further, creating more opportunities for women and encouraging other organisations and individuals to do the same. We so strongly believe in this that in 2019, P&G South Africa made a 3-year commitment to spending $30MM (approximately R 451 Million) on Women Owned Businesses. In 2021, we saw a need to increase this amount and plan to contribute an additional $12MM (approximately R180 Million) before the end of the year.
As a male co-worker, a husband and a father, I have greatly tried to understand the daily experiences of women across the world, both in the workplace and at home. While being exposed to a robust mix of gender equality activities and conversations within P&G, including events like the #WeSeeEqual Summit, I have come to realise that we need to listen more and take proactive steps to change the narrative based on individual needs. Men, specifically, must play a role to help women in the home and workplace in order for them to be able to continue with their career or take care of their families without feeling high levels of stress and anxiety. According to UN Women, females did three times the amount of unpaid work than men before the pandemic, which has since doubled during COVID-19 – and which has and can lead to mental health challenges if left unchecked
That said, men also need to be given opportunities to become part of the conversation and overall cause. Both males and females often approach situations with an unconscious bias and in order to address this, companies and public forums must broaden the issue of gender equality. At P&G South Africa we have created ‘listening pods’ that we run to connect women with men so that they can better understand the needs of each other. In doing so, we aim to be able to bring more people into the conversation, which will eventually lead to the realisation of gender equality. It is easy to ‘fall back on our bias’ and we need to keep ourselves and our colleagues ‘honest’ by continuing to challenge the norm and utilise the systems that are in place to facilitate this.
One way P&G has tried facilitating this is through our recently announced #ShareTheCare parental leave policy. This initiative increases the amount of paid paternity leave from two weeks to two months, allowing men to share infant care. While this is a great approach, I believe many men may not fully utilise the leave as they have been conditioned to accept the stereotype of the ‘working man’, so to speak. Here, I believe the role of the company is to, once again, open that conversation with expectant fathers to plan their leave. By doing this, it shows that we as managers, and as a company, are fully committed to figuring out ways these men can leverage their paternity leave and play a more active role at home.
It is extremely important that corporations play a role in the conversation through internal policies when possible and an open company culture that encourages dialogue and mentorship. By positioning gender equality as the norm, we will enable future generations to view the world as equal and question the inequalities that are currently dominant in our society.
Vilo Trska is the Senior Vice President and General Manager for Procter & Gamble South Africa.