Gender equality is an explicit goal (SDG 5) in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s), defined by the United Nations, and is found in most of the other 16 SDG’s as well, sustainable development is not possible without gender equality.
Let’s face it, it’s not rocket science. Women is half of the world population, but still often face legal, social and cultural barriers to a large extent. Despite some progress, real change worldwide has been slow and to date, not a single country has achieved gender equality. We must challenge structural inequalities not the least, to enable fair and equal opportunities for all, so that everyone can reach their full potential. The positive progress seen on gender equality cannot be taken for granted, as we see in the world around us; there are still challenges that threaten progress for girl’s and women’s rights.
Gender equality is important to the H&M Group
At the H&M Group, 76% of employees are women, and our supply chain employs around 1.6 million workers out of which approximately 80% are women. Also, many of our customers are women of all ages. We have a great responsibility to advance gender equality, as well as actively seek opportunities to empower women through our business; as an employer, through our production, products, marketing and communication, and engagement in the communities we are part of.
We need to make sure we are inclusive in all our operations and that all people in our value chain are treated fair and equal with equal opportunities to develop and grow. We believe in a society free from bias and with an equal voice and representation for women and men. Regardless of gender – everyone should have fair and equal opportunities and be protected from discrimination and harassment.
Promoting diversity and challenging stereotypes in our marketing and communication is also a big responsibility, especially in the fashion industry where the objectification of women has been part of the game. Daily, we work to ensure we inspire and empower people through our business and brands.
How we work to make gender equality possible
Even before we became official signatories to the Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEP) in 2017, we were addressing gender equality. So, first of all, this is nothing we just started to focus on; our company is based on the values of respecting human rights and equality for all. It is rooted in our company values and social policies. And for example, our global key initiatives in supply chain, around wages and workplace dialogue – integrate gender equality as key components (wage management systems, now covering 900 000 workers, and workplace dialogue, now covering 1.1 million workers).
Given that approximately 80% of people employed in our supplier’s factories are women, we are driving initiatives that empower them. For example, we have a collaboration with Better Than Cash Alliance (BTCA) (https://www.betterthancash.org/) to ensure digital payments. Today, 80% of the factories we work with in Bangladesh offer digital payment. It might seem like a basic thing but has a big impact especially on women. They get to participate in the financial system, get better control and influence of their finances for example; a pre-requisite for greater independence. In Myanmar, we partner with the International Labour Organization’s Garment Industry Project (ILO-GIP) to deliver training and capacity building programmes on a range of topics, including training more than 5500 workers in gender equality related issues such as sexual reproductive health and prevention of sexual harassment. In Bangladesh, we are part of the Women Worker Progression Programme by collaborating with the IFC and Better Work Gender Equality and Returns (GEAR) initiative, which aims to create career progression opportunities for female sewing workers – enabling them to take supervisory roles following a tailored programme of training. At the H&M Group our total share of women is reflected in leadership positions. In supplying factories, the number of women in supervisor positions is very low. We face challenges but are committed to address them. We have recently developed a specific gender equality strategy for supply chain which will focus on the areas health and safety, career and development, wages, and representation.
Internally, it is great to see that the total share of women in the H&M Group is reflected in leadership positions. 76% of the employees in the H&M Group are women, and 69% of leadership positions are held by women. As stated through our inclusion and diversity strategy, we know internal diversity is key for staying relevant for colleagues, customers and communities.
“Being an employer of so many women, in an industry which contributes to important job opportunities for many, makes me very proud. Since global progress is slow, our commitment to continue to challenge inequalities and make gender equality possible is more important than ever. It should be the norm!”
Helena Helmersson, CEO H&M Group.