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A global movement dealing with gender equality can germinate anywhere, from large global companies to the smallest of businesses

By Joel Kranc

Elizabeth Nyamayaro was only eight years old when a famine hit her small village in Zimbabwe. It had been two days since her last meal when she met, what she describes, as a “beautiful African woman wearing a blue uniform,” (as it turns out, a U.N. aid worker). The woman handed her a bowl of porridge telling her, “As Africans, we must all uplift each other.”

And so the journey began for Nyamayaro, who currently serves as senior adviser to the executive director of U.N. Women. Two years after her story began, at the age of 10, she was shipped by her family to a nearby city, where she said she experienced three types of bias: racial inequality, gender inequality and social inequality.

Her goal was to become one of those people in the “blue uniform” to help serve others and contribute to uplifting more than half of the world’s population – women and girls. Some years later, after moving to London, and after taking an unpaid research internship with the U.N., Nyamayaro moved into a full-time position with the U.N.

“It became clear to me that to uplift more than half of society, we must uplift all of society,” she said. “Because gender equality [requires] a whole of society response. It is a new paradigm, but it is a better paradigm.”

This, she says, was the basis for creating HeForShe – a solidarity movement. On Sept. 20, 2014, along with goodwill ambassador Emma Watson, the U.N. launched HeForShe. Nyamayaro says that in three days, more than 100,000 men answered the rallying call and in five days at least one man in every single country in the world joined the movement, generating more than 1.2 billion conversations on social media.

In a nutshell, HeForShe is a solidarity campaign for the advancement of women initiated by U.N. Women. Its stated goal is to engage men and boys as agents of change by encouraging them to take action against negative inequalities faced by women and girls. Grounded in the idea that gender equality is an issue that affects all people – socially, economically and politically – it seeks to actively involve men and boys in a movement that was originally conceived as “a struggle for women by women.”

Nyamayaro stated that although the rallying cry was being taken up on college campuses and in small ways, more action was required. So in January 2015, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, the HeForShe Impact 10x10x10 initiative was launched. This was conceived as a top-down partnership with 10 heads of state, 10 global CEOs and 10 university presidents. Their mission is to achieve gender equality by 2020. Therefore, transparency and gender data must be released by these organizations on an annual basis. The organizations have been tasked with achieving pay parity, gender equality at executive levels and ending child marriage, for example.

Since then, companies like McKinsey & Company have released gender data for the first time in its almost 100-year history and PwC’s female leadership has risen from 20 per cent to now 47 per cent.

Getting the global word out

Kelly Joscelyne, global talent manager with PwC, a staunch supporter of HeForShe, said, “We simply cannot empower woman and girls without engaging men and boys.” And after PwC leadership saw and heard Emma Watson’s speech at the U.N., it decided that they, in the private sector, have an enormous role to play in helping nurture gender equality. After approaching the U.N. and offering to help, the consulting and accounting firm became one of the first three Impact champions as part of the 10x10x10 movement.

“Taking a stand is obviously part of the equation, but there is also taking action and creating behavioural change that’s also important,” said Joscelyne. As a result, PwC agreed to three commitments that it would undertake publically and on behalf of the movement. They were:

  • Using its size and scale to raise the profile of HeForShe with its clients and communities
  • Launch a global inclusion index to increase women in leadership roles and create trust and increase engagement
  • Develop and launch a gender curriculum for its organization

In order to use its size and scale to spread the word on gender equality, PwC started something called “Taking the Pledge” and asked not only its employees but also its clients and broader community to commit to gender issues and equality. Along with that, 80,000 male employees have been asked within the organization to become champions of equality.

In order to capture thoughts and perspectives, the company created a website or warehouse that is internally and externally accessible. Also, to understand the equality message, PwC created brand awareness by putting messages on elevator doors around the world, which visually showed the two doors – or metaphorically, men and women – coming together.

By providing large brand and global initiatives, as well as everyday initiatives that employees at any company can participate in, PwC has helped pave the way for other organizations to involve themselves in gender equality issues. It is through large companies like PwC, as a founder in the Impact movement, that has helped HeForShe grow and make progress on a global level. 

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