What is the role of corporations in the quest for gender equality?

By Sarah Whitty

No not that ‘F-bomb’, but perhaps an even more controversial ‘F’ word of this day and age. For those of you that have not seen yet, Emma Watson, of the infamous Harry Potter films, gave an eloquent and poignant speech at the UN  a few weeks ago promoting the new “He For She” Campaign.

In her speech, Emma aims to educate us about the lack of male involvement in the movement for gender equality.  She is calling on men and boys to be advocates for change and to help make this movement tangible, not just a conversation. In 1997, Hillary Clinton made a speech about women’s rights, where less than 30% of the audience were male.

“How can we affect change in the world when only half of it is invited or feel welcome to participate in the conversation?”

She bravely brings to light that gender inequality is not just a female battle. The fear of appearing weak if a man must ask for help; the view that a father’s role as a parent is valued less by society; are strong examples of gender inequality.

There is a negative stigma that seems to be associated with feminism. A lot of women are choosing not to identify as feminists because it can be  seen as too strong, too aggressive, and anti-men.

The most powerful quote of her entire 13 minute speech is:

I think that it’s right that I am paid the same as my male counterpart, and that I can make decisions about my body, policies and decisions that will affect my life. My parents didn’t love me less because I was born a daughter, my school did not limit me because I was a girl. My mentors did not assume that I would go less far because I may bear a child someday.

In the next 16 years, 15.5 million girls will be married as children and it won’t be until 2086 before all rural African girls can have a secondary education. These are frightening statistics.

What is more alarming to me is the back-lash that this Brown University educated young woman received for standing up at the UN and being an advocate for equality. From online threats, to being bashed for her speech does nothing to remove the thousands of years of sexual oppression and violence. Hermione can’t catch a break.

Despite this criticism, some corporations are stepping up to find ways that they can better support women in the workplace. Most recently, Apple and Facebook discussed plans to include ‘egg freezing’ in female benefit packages.  There are clear pros and cons to companies becoming more engaged in fight for gender equality. On one hand, women no longer need to worry about putting off motherhood if they want to focus on their careers. On the other, companies are putting even more pressure and higher demands on women in the workplace.

Whether you are impressed or turned off by these recent announcements, there is a larger question at play here. What is the role of corporations in the quest for gender equality? Is this is a derivative of corporate social responsibility and if so, what is your company doing to confront it?