This month Ethical Corporation looks at the companies doing most to empower women, and the brands cottoning on to circular fashion

The UK has made closing the 18% pay gap between men and women part of its new industrial strategy, amid evidence from McKinsey that this could encourage another 840,000 women to enter the workforce and add £150bn to the UK economy by 2025.

Theresa May’s government introduced landmark legislation in April 2017 requiring all large employers in Britain to report their gender pay gap by April this year, and the data, the most comprehensive gathered by any country, revealed that 92% of companies have a gender pay gap, with the presence of more men than women in senior positions the main explanation.

The business-led Hampton-Alexander Review of gender diversity on boards reported last November that women now occupy 27.7% of board positions on the FTSE 100, more than double the 12.5% in 2011, while all-male FTSE 350 company boards fell from 152 in 2011 to 10 in 2017. But it also pointed out that the number of women in leadership roles on executive committees has remained static, at 19.3% in FTSE 100 companies, and 16.6% in FTSE 250 firms.

Excuses for not recruiting more women given by FTSE companies included: 'All the good women have already been snapped up'

Last month, the review provided some revealing insights into the attitudes that lie behind the statistics. Excuses for not recruiting more women given by FTSE companies included: “There aren’t that many women with the right credentials and depth of experience to sit on the board – the issues covered are extremely complex”; “All the ‘good’ women have already been snapped up”; and “Most women don’t want the hassle or pressure of sitting on a board”.

“As you read this list of excuses you might think it’s 1918 not 2018,” commented Amanda Mackenzie, chief executive of Business in the Community. “It reads like a script from a comedy parody but it’s true. … Surely we can now tackle this once and for all.”

This month in the magazine we take a look at progress in both Europe and North America to do just that. Diana Rojas in Washington DC reports on how members of the 400-strong CEO Action Coalition for Diversity & Inclusion are driving progress towards more inclusive policies. With the US tech sector a notable laggard, she also looks at Google’s struggles to deal with diversity and inclusion issues.

Credit: Andrey_Popov/Shutterstock

Claire Manuel reports on the Global Business Coalition for Women’s Economic Empowerment, a group of nine major multinational companies, including Marks & Spencer, Mondelēz, Qualcomm and Walmart, that are sharing knowledge on bringing greater economic opportunities to women in their supply chains. She also reports on Coca-Cola’s 5by20 recipe for empowering 5 million female entrepreneurs across its global value chain by 2020. Elena K Johansson reports on the rise of gender-lens investment as major asset managers including State Street and UBS launch indices.

I talk to UN Global Compact boss Lise Kingo about why Sustainable Development Goal 5, on global gender parity, should be on every company’s radar. Not only is it foundational to many other development goals, women could add an estimated $28trn to the global economy if they were able to participate on an equal footing with men.

Finally, I report on how UK mobile operator Vodafone is working to address the gender gap in access to mobile phones, amid new research showing a near-perfect correlation between penetration of ICT technologies and progress on the SDGs.

Credit: bioRE

In our other briefing on sustainable textiles this month, Angeli Mehta reports on the companies that are innovating to make the fashion industry more sustainable as it wakes up to the environmental destruction caused by its make-wear-discard model.

And she gets to the bottom of the myriad competing claims to sustainability in cotton, the world’s most popular fibre, and the most susceptible to global water scarcity. We also take a look at developments in Uzbekistan’s cotton industry, where promised reforms to the state-sponsored system of forced labour have yet to bear fruit.

Lots to keep our readers busy until next month’s issue on the rise of micro-grids and energy storage.

Main picture credit: Kang Hyejin/Shutterstock
gender pay gap  gender lens investing  women's empowerment  Ellen Macarthur Foundation  organic cotton  Better Cotton Initiative 

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