Contribute to a More Equitable Recovery
As we look beyond the pandemic, this year’s International Women’s Day is a reminder of the importance of a more equitable recovery.
As the world strives to extract itself from two years of the Covid-19 pandemic, the desire to build back with impact’ is not just a chance to rectify the damage done, but also an opportunity to address deep-seated problems that existed before we ever heard of the virus. This year, the campaign theme of International Women’s Day is #BreakTheBias – a call to action to tackle inherent structural inequities once and for all.
It is a sad fact that the pandemic has had the most profound impact on the people who can least afford it. Women have been disproportionately affected by the crisis. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates that women lost 54 million jobs globally in 2020, shrinking the female workforce by 4.2% compared to a decline of 3.0% for men. This is because women are over-represented in high-risk sectors such as food service, retail and domestic work. The impact is worse for younger women and those in lower-income countries.
Compounding these problems, women are also more affected when children are unable to go to school and are more often required to take up the role of carer for unwell family members – and this work is usually unpaid. While the prospects for employment are improving as economies recover, the ILO points out that women will find it harder to regain employment than men, remaining below pre-pandemic levels at the end of 2021.
What can be done to level the playing field? BNP Paribas is taking action in two main ways to overcome the structural disadvantages that are holding back women from reaching their earnings potential.
First, the bank is committed to leveraging digital technology as a vector of equality and inclusion. The pandemic demonstrated how web-based applications could support effective working from home arrangements for some jobs – as well as enabling online shopping. This goes further than simplifying the weekly grocery delivery: it demonstrates the opportunities technology creates to build online businesses.
Harnessing the power of technology starts with improving digital literacy for women and girls. According to United Nations agency the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), globally, women and girls use the Internet 12.5% less than men and boys – and only 15% of women in Least Developed Countries (LDCs) use the internet, compared to 86% in the developed world. Helping more women get online will improve their access to financial services and education, creating new opportunities to improve livelihoods.
But realising the full benefits of digital technology requires more than access – it demands skills. If women are to level up in employment, they need to access greater education opportunities, especially in STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The empowerment of women in the technology industry is “crucial to shaping an equitable society”, according to the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP). “It not only improves gender equality but also makes significant contributions to sustainable economic development.”
BNP Paribas has prioritised increasing the numbers of women within the IT sector as a way of fast-tracking female advancement in these critical jobs – with the associated benefits for the women themselves, as well as for their families and communities. Our campaign to feminise our IT workforce is one of the group’s strategic priorities: we have set a target to increase the proportion of women in IT roles from 31.6% to 37% by the end of 2024 – which amounts to adding more than 1,000 new roles for women.
To meet our goal, we are taking a root-and-branch approach, starting with enhanced recruitment campaigns, increasing internal mobility, and improving training and upskilling. We have appointed key women as internal IT Ambassadors, started a mentoring programme and launched a social media campaign. The strategy is tailored to local conditions: for example, in North America, 22% of our IT employees are women, compared with 37% in Africa, 32% in Asia and 30% in Europe.
In addition to promoting IT for women within our walls, we are drawing on what we do best – using the bank’s financial resources and knowledge base to empower women through banking services. We have been committed to financial inclusion for more than 30 years, supporting microfinance providers around the world that enable people excluded from the financial system to take their first steps in business.
Because the majority of unbanked individuals are women, enabling entrepreneurship through microloans is a tangible way of helping women reach their full economic potential. In the past 30 years, BNP Paribas’ assistance to microfinance institutions (MFIs) has enabled 1.8 million women to benefit from microloans. In 2020 alone, the bank has allocated EUR 376 million to this programme, financing 28 MFIs directly and over 100 indirectly, through dedicated funds. Since 1989, this amounts to EUR 1.2 billion.
This efficient, targeted distribution of credit would be impossible without the enabling power of technology. For example, Kenya’s M-Pesa mobile payments system launched in 2007 kick-started a ‘mobile money’ revolution across Africa which gave 42 million unbanked individuals access to the financial system in seven countries. M-Pesa enables a range of transactions, from paying bills to creating savings accounts – all in a secure manner. The World Bank estimates that rural users of M-Pesa have experienced an increase in income of up to 30% – while women in rural areas have also been empowered by remittances from family and other sources.
Now, more than ever, as women continue to face disproportional odds in their struggle to recover ground lost during the pandemic, it is imperative that we confront and overcome the entrenched biases holding them back. We know that this is good for women themselves and for society as a whole: the benefits are shared by their families and the wider community. #BreakTheBias is a powerful call to action – it is also an essential tool for the global recovery. Together we must use this period of unprecedented disruption to build a more equitable and resilient economy for all.