The events of 2020 have upended homes, workplaces, and communities. Under the highly challenging circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people are struggling to keep their jobs, put food on the table, avoid eviction, and feel safe at home. While everyone is facing unprecedented challenges, women — especially those who already face justice problems — are bearing the brunt of the economic and social fallout of COVID-19.
Women have only three-quarters of the legal rights afforded to men worldwide, with the greatest inequities relating to family, employment, control of economic assets, and violence. And we know that unmet justice needs can lead to social, physical, and mental health problems, lost productivity, and reduced access to economic opportunity, education, and employment, especially the long-term effects on girls.
The good news is that throughout the crisis, several business leaders have demonstrated a growing willingness and commitment to drive justice within business operations, workplaces, and communities. A recent example of this is the movement to end mandatory arbitration for sexual assault and harassment survivors. As we move towards the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic we have a unique opportunity for all sectors to recognize and value women’s voices and leadership, to account for their multiple roles as justice defenders, workers, decision makers, and leaders, and to add to the growing knowledge of what works in improving women’s access to justice. Organized as a parallel event to the 65th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women, the Business for Leaders for Justice Coalition brought together four outstanding representatives from the private sector to lead a discussion on what businesses can practically do to advance justice for women and girls. The discussion was moderated by Ms. Jamira Burley, Consultant for the Responsible Business Initiative for Justice.
Televerde and Second Chance Opportunities for Women in the Justice System
While there are more men than women in prison, the number of incarcerated women has doubled over the past two decades. Women who have been incarcerated face heightened barriers to justice and are more vulnerable due to violence, discrimination, disadvantage, and exclusion. Ms. Michelle Cirocco, Executive Director of Televerde Foundation and the Chief Social Responsibility Officer for Televerde, highlighted Televerde’s commitment to work, ensuring justice opportunities for women who are incarcerated. Ms. Cirocco reiterated Televerde’s view that providing women in prison with jobs, training, and opportunities can be a smart investment for businesses that at the same time empowers women and their communities. She highlighted the need to support these women to break down barriers to accessing justice for themselves, their children, and their communities.
Ms. Cirocco’s experience is proof of the outstanding work that Televerde does. Formerly incarcerated herself, Ms. Cirocco benefited from Televerde programs for incarcerated women and started working for the company upon her release. The opportunity not only helped her rebuild her life, she also ascended the corporate ladder to become one of the leaders in her field. Indeed, in 2020, she was tasked with building the Televerde Foundation’s mission to expand its support to incarcerated women.
“Diversity is inviting someone to the party; Inclusion is asking them to dance.”
– Ms. Michelle Cirocco, Executive Director of Televerde Foundation and the Chief Social Responsibility Officer for Televerde
Avon Empowering Women to Stand Up to Violence
Across their lifetime, 1 in 3 women, around 736 million, experience some form of violence or abuse — a number that has remained largely unchanged over the past decade. And UN-Women reports a shadow pandemic of gender-based violence generated by the covid-19 crisis. Greater action is needed to prevent and respond to violence against women by adopting legal reforms and providing tailored support from the justice system as part of a broader multi-sectoral response.
Ms. Natalie Deacon, Executive Director of Corporate Affairs and Sustainability at Avon and President at the Avon Foundation for Women, spotlighted Avon’s leadership in providing access to justice for women and girls. As Ms. Deacon shared, Avon is not only a beauty brand, but a global movement that has empowered women for more than 130 years and believes that a better world for women, is a better world for all. Avon leverages their global platform to speak up and break down the wall of silence around gender-based violence ensures their staff and customers have the information to respond and prevent violence and works with local organizations to fund frontline services. Last year alone, Avon donated $1 million to 40 NGOs in the countries they operate. Furthermore, Ms. Deacon explained that Avon is making sure they are walking the walk within the organization: they have created a protocol to support their employees in situations of gender-based violence, including giving them time off, paid leave, and connecting them with a network of NGOs that can assist them with their needs. These justice initiatives and many more are captured in the Avon Case Study that the Business Leaders for Justice Coalition released on the same day as the event.
“A better world for women is a better world for everyone.” – Ms. Natalie Deacon, Executive Director of Corporate Affairs and Sustainability at Avon and President at the Avon Foundation for Women
Citi and the Female Quotient Working to Close the Gender Pay Gap
Workers around the world look forward to payday. A paycheck helps pay the bills and put food on the table, but it can also represent an injustice — an expression of persistent inequities between men and women in the workplace. Globally, the gender pay gap stands at 16 percent and for women with children, women of colour, or women in the informal sector, the difference is even greater.
Ms. Ronda Carnegie, Chief Innovation Officer at The Female Quotient, and Ms. Nikki Darden, Head of Internal Brand Engagement and Global Integration at Citi, discussed their innovative partnership aimed at closing the persistent gender pay gap. In 2019, Citi became the first major international financial institution to provide public data on their gender pay disparity- but few followed suit. So Citi joined forces with The Female Quotient to design the Advancing Equality Calculator- a simple to use tool for small and medium enterprises to increase accountability on the pay gap internally and help build a movement based on data and sound analysis. This free, intuitive, and anonymous tool allows any business to analyze their raw pay gap without hiring consultants or third-parties. It also provides tailored insights that may help organizations build a strong business case for pay equity as well as support policy initiatives to strengthen legal protections for women and combat gender-discrimination in the workplace.
“Transparency drives accountability. […] When you have the numbers, it is hard not to take action.” – Ms. Nikki Darden, Head of Internal Brand Engagement and Global Integration at Citi
“We are coalition builders, where we begin to be powerful is where we connect the dots with everyone’s dots and amplify and share best practices and ideas.”– Ms. Ronda Carnegie, Chief Innovation Officer at The Female Quotient
Why the Time is Right for Businesses to Join the Movement for Justice
All panelists stressed that there is both a moral and an economic argument for businesses to invest in justice for women: investing in women means investing in the future of their children and their communities. The estimated 5% GDP cost associated with the losses in productivity caused by the socio and economic barriers faced by women and girls can be overcome through smart business policies to the benefit of all.
These business leaders encouraged other businesses to step up and take action to ensure justice for all, specifically women. As Ms. Cirocco stated, “it’s the private sector who can and must fill out this gap”. Ms. Darden explained that data supports this idea: the 2021 Trust Barometer indicates that people have greater trust in corporations than in the government. “Taking a stand for justice is not only the right thing to do for businesses, but it is what customers expect from us,” added Ms. Darden. Ms. Burley summarized the message of the panel, “All of us have a role to play, you need to look for ways to step up and do something, otherwise you will be left behind.”
How to Join
For business leaders who are interested in advancing justice for women and take action immediately, you can join the Business Leaders for Justice Coalition by endorsing the Justice Imperative Principles. The coalition is an opportunity for you and your business to share the concrete actions that you are taking to advance justice, while connecting with justice champions that are committed to accelerating this movement.
Watch the event in full: