COMMENTARY: Narrowing the equality gap

This article by Evelyn Suarez first appeared on March 27th at Adam Smith Project.

Studies show there is much work to be done in giving women leadership positions in trade

It is only fitting to take stock of where women stand during Women’s History Month, the month which includes International Women’s Day on March 8, 2017.
   The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day was #BeBoldForChange, which made a call to all to forge a better working world – a more gender-inclusive world. This is a challenge that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took on about three years ago with his Womenomics signature program aimed at boosting the country’s economy by creating an enabling environment for women to join the workforce.

   “Creating a society in which all women shine” is one of the defining policies of Abenomics. The need for inclusion of women in business for economic growth led President Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to launch a bilateral initiative aimed at boosting women entrepreneurs. According to the White House, “both President Trump and Prime Minister Trudeau are committed to removing barriers to women’s economic participation and supporting women as they advance in the business community.”

   Consistent with the theme of #BeBoldForChange, the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) is taking steps to ease bottlenecks hindering women-led exporters and their growth and job creating potential in the Asia Pacific region.

   According to Nguyen Hoa Cuong, Chair of the APEC Small and Medium Enterprise Working Group, “our work to address inequalities facing women entrepreneurs and managers stands to boost trade and growth, particularly among small businesses that account for the majority of employment across the region.” 

   The World Trade Organization (WTO) just released a report on the number of women in its ranks over the last 20 years. Kudos to the WTO for its self-examination and its work in recognizing the challenges in addressing gender equality and for Director-General Roberto Azevedo’s leadership in moving the ball forward.

   In his foreword, Acevedo notes that while some progress has been made overall, “according to some estimates, gender equality in the workplace will not be achieved until 2095.”

   Clearly, there is much work to be done at the WTO and elsewhere to advance women in government and business. The WTO has taken note of the challenge and has increasingly integrated the gender dimension into its own rules and administrative procedures. Acevedo tells us that diversity at the WTO is being monitored each year through its Annual Diversity Reports to Members.

   Acevedo also acknowledges that, as with most other organizations, ranging from international governmental entities to public companies, the WTO has far to go in recruiting women for top management positions. Women are underrepresented in senior management positions and the number of women chairing WTO bodies, panels, and working groups is considerably lower than that of men. He says that the same is the case for women members and observers to the WTO.

   These observations show that it is long overdue for society as a whole to #BeBoldForChange. There is much work to be done in advancing women into senior ranks of business and government. There is no shortage of qualified women ready to assume leadership positions. Take a look at the accomplished women that my organization, the Association of Women in International Trade (WIIT), features each week in our WIIT Weekly.

   We have also taken a look at the performance of major trade-related international organizations, including the WTO, in including women in top positions in our jointly created document with the Organization of Women in International Trade.

   “Women Leaders in Trade: International Organizations Offer a Great Opportunity to Work in the Trade Field” finds that the percentage of women in senior management at these organizations ranges from 12 percent to 63 percent. Unfortunately, the WTO was at the bottom of that range.

   We appreciate DG Acevedo’s leadership in calling attention to the issue, which is the first step to addressing the problem. It is a first step in an effort to #BeBoldForChange.