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Peter Kerekgyarto: Shell’s Approach Towards Women’s Empowerment

The Gender Profile of Ukraine, developed by United Nations Development Program, shows that the percentage of women in management positions stands at 23%, business owners at 46%, and their overall employment rate at 47%. In addition, women’s rate of salaries is on average 23% less than men’s remuneration.

Despite visible progress over the decade, the issue of gender inequality at the workplace remains an open issue disproportionately affecting women around the world. The COVID-19 pandemic has further amplified existing shifts in equality of women’s and men’s rights.

How can companies be best fit to address this problem?

Shell’s experience shows that gender quality should permeate the company’s operations. Only a longstanding policy of women’s empowerment implemented by companies may have positive social effects. Moreover, businesses benefit from such policies as well.

World & Ukrainian trends

A recent McKinsey & Company report shows that in the oil and gas sector only one-third of the total number of employees are women. In STEM industries (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) this percentage is higher — 41%, and in the business sector the percentage of employed women is about 48%.

The Women in Business Report, conducted by audit and consulting company Grant Thornton, shows that in 2019, the share of women in senior management of business companies worldwide was at an all-time high, but still at 29 percent. In 2020 this number has not changed. Ukraine only reflects the general trend in this issue. The Gender Profile of Ukraine, developed by the United Nations Development Program, shows that the percentage of women in management positions stands at 23%, business owners at 46%, and their overall employment rate at 47%. In addition, women’s rate of salaries is on average 23% less than men’s remuneration.

In the energy sector, according to the survey “Women and Men in the Energy Sector of Ukraine,” the share of women among all employees in the energy sector of the country remains quite low (at 23–27% in 2013–2017), despite slightly positive dynamics. The structure of employment is also asymmetric — positions still tend to be divided into “female” (specialists, service workers) and “male” (mostly managerial positions). The disparity is also noticeable in the context of wages: women receive lower wages than men on the same positions.

The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened these trends. Thus, according to European Commission’s 2021 report on gender equality in the European Union, the pandemic has hit women particularly hard. Their overrepresentation in lower-paid sectors and occupations, such as for instance hospitality, retail, or personal services, make them particularly vulnerable in the labor markets struck by the COVID-19 crisis.

Preliminary data on labor market trends show that the impact of the pandemic’s first wave on the labor market was more significant for women than for men, the survey reads.

Business also has its role to play in protecting women’s rights and in empowering women’s leadership. This is what Shell is, in particular, working on.

Gender equity promotion

Our experience confirms that maintaining cultural diversity and gender balance favorably contributes to competitive advantages. Thus, in Shell Retail in Ukraine, 50% of women hold senior positions, far above the global average of 26%. Such high performance has been achieved through the company’s carefully thought-out policy aimed at building a gender-balanced organization that helps attract more women to management positions.

Shell signed the Declaration of the World Economic Forum on gender equality in the oil and gas sector and already feel the effectiveness of this decision in terms of financial performance and the general atmosphere in the company. One of the principles of the Declaration determines “the establishment of gender diversity and inclusion as a strategic business imperative at all levels of an organization.”

The document also encourages the creation of an open inclusive corporate culture and the promotion of equal opportunities for women and men, which promotes the career growth of both sexes.

Shell in Ukraine is proud to have become a member of the United Nations Global Compact. This new chapter in the history of our company confirms our intentions of becoming a responsible and sustainable business in various aspects from running a safe, efficient, responsible, and profitable business to contributing to positive changes in communities where Shell operates. The UNGC supports companies to do business responsibly by adhering to 10 principles that cover, in particular, human rights and labor. We are happy of being listed among those businesses aimed at contributing to global social changes which begin from the gradual progress of individual companies.

We are continuously working on achieving, particularly, the United Nations Sustainability Development Goal No. 5 “Gender Equality.” This topic is of crucial importance now, in pandemic times, when women are facing even more difficulties in a “new reality.” According to the UN’s findings, women’s unpaid care work has increased significantly as a result of school closures and the increased needs of older people.

Moreover, women are harder hit by the economic impacts of COVID-19, as they disproportionately work in insecure labor markets. We bear responsibility for taking care of women employed by Shell not only in difficult times, but always. This is our religion; this is Shell’s policy which also leads us to sign the UN Women’s Empowerment Principles in near future.

Empowering women in business should move from declarations to practical steps which will allow changing a still popular mindset in Ukraine that a woman cannot combine career growth and family care.  They also lay the foundation for security for women and testify to the company as a responsible and caring employer.

Peter Kerekgyarto is general director of Shell Retail Ukraine and country chair of Shell Ukraine.

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