Private sector turns inward to address gender gap

Major companies pledge to diminish workplace inequality between men and women.

By Menekse Tokyay for SES Türkiye in Istanbul -- 01/02/13

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A group of leading Turkish firms has unveiled a project to support gender equality in pay and access to employment with the backing of the Ministry of Family and Social Policies.

  • Women weave a rug in Sirnak. Major companies in Turkey recently unveiled a programme to combat persistent gender inequality in employment. [AFP]

    Women weave a rug in Sirnak. Major companies in Turkey recently unveiled a programme to combat persistent gender inequality in employment. [AFP]

The Equality at Work Platform was established recently at the World Economic Forum under the co-chairmanship of the Sabanci and Dogus holding companies, the most well-known of their kind of Turkey.

In a joint declaration, the companies pledged to enshrine the principal of equal pay for equal work in their human resources policies, make special efforts to include women in the workforce, and support a balance between work, life, and family. The statement called on platform members to establish leadership teams to monitor progress on gender inequality, though the measures are voluntary. The document is to be sent to companies' suppliers and partners.

The platform was launched amid reports of stubborn economic disparity between the sexes.

A recent survey of 55 leading companies by the social policies ministry found that women account for less than half of employment in skilled jobs and just 10 percent of unskilled ones. Only 15 percent of company board chairpersons were women.

According to the Turkish Statistical Institute's latest figures, about 31 percent of women participate in the labor force in Turkey, compared to 72 percent of men.

In a written statement to SES Türkiye, Sule Yucebiyik, spokesperson for platform signatory Borusan Holding, lauded the initiative as a positive response to the country's economic and social needs.

"For a country that aims to become one of the top 10 economies in the world by 2023, we need to give women an active role in the employment sector," Yucebiyik said. "For this reason, this platform is of utmost importance in that it provides a role model and raises awareness concerning gender equality at workplace. We'll support this project at all levels."

According to Yucebiyik, 15 percent of Borusan's employees are women. She said the platform would provide an impetus to strengthen women's role in the company.

"Male-female equality has always been part of Borusan's institutional culture. Equality is framed in our human resources policies as well as in practice," Yucebiyik said. "The next important steps include activities to raise awareness of our employees. These will be organised in accordance with the platform and the UN's Women Empowerment Principles."

Devrim Erol, head of the Ankara-based Business Women Entrepreneurs and Enhancement Association, welcomed the platform as an acknowledgement of a long-standing problem.

"In a modern country, to become a prosperous society, women and men should work together with equal rights and responsibilities, she told SES Türkiye. "Encouraging both women and companies to integrate women into the labour force has a strategic importance in revealing Turkey's hidden human potential in every sector."

Erol added that companies' participation in the platform could help break negative stereotypes about the economic role of women.

"It is not an easy and short-term task to ensure such a change in mentality. However, this platform, with the long-term targets it established and with the awareness-raising campaigns it will initiate within the education sphere, can spur a positive trend in that direction," she said.


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