Credit: Arpan Basu Chowdhury
Despite a calamitous 2020, there are notable areas of progress and hope as more organisations are becoming transparent about their policies on shaping diverse, inclusive, and equitable working environments, according to the 2021 Global Health 50/50 report “Gender equality: Flying blind in a time of crisis”.
This year, the group’s annual report and accompanying index monitored the gender-related policies and practices of the top 201 organisations working in global health and health policy around the world. This year’s report reveals that despite substantial rhetoric, little progress has been made towards gender equality and diversity in leadership across the health sector and a widening gender pay gap.
The report warns that this inaction may have serious implications for pandemic preparedness, progress on Universal Health Coverage, and meeting the health-related targets of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
“Gender inequality is not inevitable; it is made by people and reinforced in systems and organisations, including global health,” the report states. “And it can be unmade within those same systems.”
Nearly 80 per cent of organisations studied declared a commitment to gender equality, but only 60 per cent of organisations have transparent gender equality policies and even fewer have diversity and inclusion policies. Still, more organisations are making public references to diversity and inclusion, which increased by 10 per cent over the past year.
But for Palladium Chief Diversity Officer Rosanna Duncan, that’s not enough for true progress.
“If you want to make progress on your diversity and inclusion strategy, you need to put diversity and inclusion at the ‘top table’ of the organisation,” Duncan says. She warns that otherwise, it’s likely to be compartmentalised or bolted onto an existing function such as HR, making it less efficient and effective.
“To truly build diversity and inclusion policies, you need to have somebody with a global view leading on this topic within the organisation, and you need to walk the talk.”
For the second year in a row, Palladium was included in this year’s Global Health 50/50 report and index and rated as a high scorer based on performance across several indicators, from stated commitment to gender equality, to addressing imbalances of power and privilege in the workplace, and gender-responsiveness of global health programs.
Duncan credits the fact that for the past several years, diversity and inclusion has been made a key aspect of the business.
“At Palladium, we want everyone to understand that diversity and inclusion is their business and something for which we all have responsibility. Until you can achieve that, it’s difficult to make progress within an organisation.”
From Gender-Blind to Gender-Transformative
It would be difficult to look forward to driving change in policies without looking back at how 2020 has shaped global health overall. And in most cases, global health programming and policy in 2020 was largely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The report’s findings suggest that the majority of programming to prevent and address the health impacts of COVID-19 largely ignored the role of gender and how it may affect people’s health.
The reality is that gender-blind pandemic responses are far less effective than they should be, with the potential for grave consequences for the health of billions of people around the world. Moving forward, building gender considerations into the design of global health programs will be crucial for success.
Instead of gender-blind, the report recommends moving towards gender-transformative approaches that recognise that gender drives health inequities, aim to transform harmful gender norms, systems and structures, and foster gender equality. While the index has a primary focus on gender, the report also recognises the need to embrace diversity and inclusion more broadly across organisations.
COVID-19 and the resulting fallout forced many organisations to shift towards more inclusive policies overall, from remote work policies to more flexible working hours and family-friendly policies, which are necessary to tackle imbalances of power and privilege in the workplace.
“Real progress is only possible if we actively drive change,” says Kumsal Bayazit, CEO of Elsevier, the report publisher. “This includes the basics such as establishing new flexible working policies and building on pandemic-learning to greatly reduce travel requirements.”
To truly establish policies that advance equity, it’s necessary to establish an environment that embraces equality of opportunity and is inclusive of all staff. But to do so requires a committed leadership and empowered staff.
According to Duncan, this has been core to Palladium’s diversity and inclusion strategies. “For change to take place on diversity and inclusion, it has to be driven from the top, with encouraging CEOs and ideally, a senior diversity and inclusion officer.”
She notes that doing so sends a clear signal to staff on how much an organisation is investing in addressing diversity and inclusion. “There’s an opportunity to identify where diversity and inclusion permeates into other areas, such as working with customers and communities, and within supply chains.”
It’s never been a better time for those organisations looking to act on the findings of the Global Health 50/50 report to do so, bringing gender, diversity, and inclusivity to the fore, putting policies first, and ensuring transparency across all aspects of the strategy.
Doing so is not only good for business and diversity of thought – it’s good for the world as we collectively work towards moving the needle on the Sustainable Development Goals and prepare for futures pandemics.
To learn more about diversity and inclusion at Palladium, contact email@example.com.