Learning Webinar: Business, non-discrimination and gender equality in the time of COVID-19

On 29 April, the International Labour Organization and the International Training Centre (ILOITC) held a learning webinar titled “Business, non-discrimination and gender equality in the time of COVID-19”, as part of the EU-funded WE EMPOWER G7 project to promote women’s economic empowerment at work. This learning webinar reviewed employment practices and identified critical areas to maintain workplaces free from gender-based discrimination including in time of the COVID-19 crisis. It showed how the ILO Helpdesk can offer practical guidance to companies and shared workplace practices in promoting gender equality and non-discrimination by Novo Nordisk (Denmark) and Bending Spoons (Italy). ILOITC also presented WeTest, a new on-line tool designed to help companies reflect on organizational practices on gender equality.

The full webinar recording is available here.

Key take-aways:

1. Policy action grounded on social dialogue and international labour standards is critical to address the disproportionate and multifaceted impact of COVID-19 pandemic on women

  • Women are disproportionately affected by the global health pandemic and related socio-economic crisis. Women hold notable job shares in sectors at high risk of being impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. They are also overrepresented among health care and other frontline who are at the heart of the crisis response and risk their safety and health.
  •  This crisis is also affecting women due to pre-existing inequalities, decent work deficits and discrimination, with women holding insecure jobs, in SMEs and the informal economy facing substantive loss of earnings and increased poverty.
  • National lockdowns are also putting women at an increased risk of experiencing gender-based violence. School closures, intensive household work and care needs are increasing the already disproportionate share of women’s unpaid care work, with high mental health risks.
  • Gender equality policies are not a luxury for times of prosperity. International labour standards provide a strong foundation for action and call for applying a gender perspective in all crisis response design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation activities.
  • The ILO Policy Framework to fight COVID-19 based on international labour standards includes four key pillars for policy responses: 1) Stimulating the economy and employment; 2) Supporting enterprises, jobs and incomes; 3) Protecting workers in the workplace, and 4) Relying on social dialogue for solutions. Preventing discrimination and exclusion of workers is part of Pillar 3.

2. Businesses play a key role in preventing and addressing gender-based discrimination as a policy response to the crisis

  • Discrimination in the workplace remains a key challenge to achieving gender equality at work, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. The magnified impact of the crisis on women requires a renewed focus on promoting an inclusive and diverse workplace.
  • Discrimination is any distinction, exclusion or preference on a designated ground with the effect of excluding individuals or groups from enjoying opportunities and benefits arising out of employment or occupation.
  • Determining the prohibited grounds (with focus on their intersections) and forms (direct or indirect) of discrimination is key to identify and address it. Discrimination can occur in all employment-related aspects. During the COVID-19 crisis, discrimination in occupational safety and health, termination of employment and access to social security and family-friendly policies are particularly relevant.
  • The principle of equal pay for work of equal value should include all the elements of remuneration (salary or wage, any other income or benefits, directly or indirectly paid, in money or in kind). The assessment should be based on work components, responsibilities, skills, efforts, working conditions and main results.
  • Actions companies can take include: making a strong commitment and integrate gender considerations in daily business operations, HR policies, codes of conduct, buying practices and workplace responses to Covid-19; creating awareness of the protections and requirements of the HR policies and code of conduct, including subsidiaries across countries; collecting timely and accurate gender-disaggregated data; maintaining gender-sensitive grievance procedures for both the company and its supply chain, and providing support to workers in the context of the Covid-19 crisis.
  • The ILO Helpdesk provides practical guidance on policies and action companies can take to create a discrimination-free workplace. It provides free and confidential assistance and includes special considerations and resources for the COVID-19 pandemic.

3. How companies promote gender equality and a discrimination-free workplaces through company policies and practices

  • Novo Nordisk has publicly committed to gender equality and adopted a Labour Code of Conduct that applies to all employees globally. It covers rights at work such as working hours; living wage/equal remuneration for work of equal value; equality/harassment/discrimination, and freedom of association and collective bargaining. A gender equality perspective is applied to all stages of employment.
  • To ensure effective labour rights compliance and equal opportunities to all employees, Novo Nordisk has set up a monitoring mechanism, the ‘Business Ethics Risk Process,’ to identify and mitigate potential negative human rights impacts. Employees have also access to multiple grievance mechanisms, including a hotline in over 50 languages.
  • In 2019, Novo Nordisk increased minimum paid maternity leave from 12 to 14 weeks globally and introduced a right to paid paternity leave and flexible working conditions guidelines. It implements transparency in senior positions advertisement, inclusive recruitment and talent management processes.
  • Ensuring all employees are paid at least a living wage is a pre-requisite for pay equity. Novo Nordisk conducted an equal pay assessment, resulting in correction of gender-based pay inequalities.
  • The company and its leadership continue to consider the management of equality and non-discrimination a high priority, especially in the context of Covid-19. To adapt and improve working practices in the time of Covid-19, Novo Nordisk conducted a “Remote Work Pulse Survey” on employee sentiment on remote working during Covid-19, with positive and encouraging results.
  • Bending Spoons ranked first in ‘Best Workplaces for Millennials 2019’ and the ‘Best Workplaces Italia for Women 2019’ by Great Place to Work. It implemented company-wide policies in talent attraction and people management to create a discrimination-free workplace. Successful policies include re-tuning communications in outreach to potential candidates through gender-neutral language; a fair, tier-based salary system, and implementing company-wide training on bias and social constructs in the workplace.
  • The company’s tier-based salary system enables individuals to circumvent negotiations that create gender-based inequalities, resulting in an opportunity for fair compensation. Remote and flexible work policies enable all employees to maintain an improved work-life balance.
  • In response to COVID-19, thanks to an ingrained company culture of flexible work, Bending Spoons could quickly pivot to full-time remote work with unchanged levels of productivity. It promoted open communication with employees, collected data on grievances and concerns of workers during the Covid-19 crisis, and focused on providing emotional support to caregivers by making special accommodations for their participation in meetings and other work activities.
  • By providing tailored support to workers in the context of the Covid-19 crisis, companies can create an inclusive, responsive and discrimination-free work environment.

The learning webinar attracted 704 registrants and 391 attendees (84 per cent women). Among the participants, 95 per cent reported being very or somehow satisfied about the event, while 92 per cent indicated being well informed or informed after the webinar.

Helpful Resources: