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Interview with: EDGE Certified Foundation Co-founder Aniela Unguresan

We live in a world that is roughly 50/50. We all believe that talent and intelligence is equally spread across the population, yet if we keep tapping into just 50 percent of that talent pool, how can we think of ourselves as being part of organizations that will keep up with change?

In a world of disruptive business models, the ability to adapt to new situations is key. But where does this ability come from? It comes from people, working in organizations that are as diverse as the world we live in. It is very important for organizations to mirror the diverse reality of the world — it is essential in ensuring the sustainability of organization’s human capital and it is a crucial component of their ability to adapt to continuously changing market conditions. The business case for workplace gender equality may not be entirely apparent to all organizations.  

This is why the EDGE Certified Foundation was set up, co-founded by Aniela Unguresan and Nicole Schwab, which in 2011 launched EDGE Certification, the leading global assessment methodology and business certification standard for gender equality. EDGE, which stands for Economic Dividends for Gender Equality, is distinguished by its rigor and focus on business impact. Unguresan and Schwab designed the system to help organizations not only create an optimal workplace for women and men, but also benefit from it.

The World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report predicts that the global gender pay will not be closed for 217 years and for the first time in history gender parity has shifted into reverse since it was first measured. However, savvy business leaders have begun to turn this challenges into an opportunity to get the most out a rapidly changing global talent pool. In looking for innovative ways to accelerate their business’ growth, EDGE Certification is helping them to transform their cultures through a proven methodology that combines rigorous analytics and targeted actions.

EDGE Certified Foundation came into being in 2009, around the same time that McKinsey was coming out with the first studies on when women thrive, and showing positive correlations between performance and a better gender balance in organizations. The awareness around the importance of gender equality for the health and wealth of organizations and societies was mounting. We realized that the only way to create sustainable change around workplace gender equality was to look at it in the same way as any other business topic. Therefore, we needed to have a clear system in place to measure current status and progress, accountability, results and to set standards of excellence.

In the beginning, the challenge was how to measure gender in the workplace in a consistent way across different industries and geographies. That was our ambition from the very beginning — recognizing that every company is unique and has its own strengths and opportunities for improvement when it comes to gender balance. However, we realized that there were two universal, underlying principles that held for everybody: the need to attract, develop, retain and motivate a richer and deeper talent pool — not only half of it — and the growing need of both men and women to live and work differently in the 21st century.

We spent two years understanding how to measure gender in the workplace consistently across geographies and industries. We then launched the concept of the EDGE certification at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January 2011. Another two years were spent building the certification system. The first EDGE-certified companies were announced in October 2013. There were six companies from four different industries. We now have nearly 200 organizations in 50 different countries and in 23 different industries pursuing the goal of gender equality through the EDGE certification system.

Why is it important to have the business case for gender equality built right into EDGE?

In EDGE’s early days, the question we got asked often was, ‘Why does this matter for our organization?’ Now, the question is no longer why, but ‘How do we do it?’ This is largely attributed to a combination of two things: A growing pool of deeply and authentically committed organizations and CEOs that believe that this is the right and smart thing to do, and the increasing pressure the eye of the public is casting on this topic. Companies are now subject to more scrutiny on this. Increasingly, there are investor groups out there who have started taking a closer look at how the companies they invest in or lend money to are performing when it comes to gender. It’s an issue that can no longer be ignored.

What is EDGE’s methodology for measuring and advancing gender equality? What metrics are used to measure this?

Companies are measured on four fundamental pillars that define success in workplace gender equality:

1. Strong gender balance at all levels of the organization — we look at where men and women are in the organization, in which type of roles or functions, how they are hired, how they are promoted and how they are retained by the organization from the very first operational level all the way up to the non-executive board level and through all the different management levels of responsibility in the organization.

2. Pay Equity — we compare men and women that have similar skills and competencies and equivalent jobs, and whether or not they are being paid the same wages through establishing whether there is a statistically insignificant unexplained gender pay gap

3. Effective policies and practices that organizations put in place to ensure equitable career flows.

4. An inclusive culture — we survey the employees of the organization on how they feel about their career development opportunities.

In terms of advancing gender equality, what are some ways companies can improve across these four pillars?

It is a systematic and structured approach that involves looking at the policies and practices in place, and then measuring the impact of these policies by talking to employees about whether they know about them and how they use them.

One of the things we see often in our space is that the formal commitments, policies and practices exist — and sometimes they are beautifully sophisticated — but there is a big gap between the formal commitments and offerings and the informal workplace practices. Consistently checking in, having the triangulation between what the company thinks it does, what employees think the company does and the measurable impact of this — checking the alignments and the gaps between these three points of view — is essential to ensure progress.

Why is having a global certification so important?

On one hand, it’s the aspiration towards global standards of excellence and it’s also for companies who operate across very different cultures and jurisdictions. It gives them a consistent way to look at these aspects across their different markets of practice.

It’s also because global brands manage their talent on a global basis. And while local specificities can coexist, we wanted to create a common backbone that organizations can look to in all of the countries in which they operate, even if their markets are Saudi Arabia, Switzerland, Romania and Chile.

Concerning continuous improvement, companies must recertify every two years. How does the recertification process work?

EDGE Certification is particularly suitable in closing workplace gender gaps because it is a tiered certification system and works just as hard for those organizations who are only just starting to look to this topic in a structured way, as it does for those which have had strategies in place for several years. For the former it is particularly beneficial because it provides a lot of support and allows organizations to set priorities correctly from the start based on verified data and by providing a multitude of clear and implementable remedies proven to move the needle across the 4 pillars.

EDGE Certified organizations are on their way to workplace gender equality and that’s what they’re being recognized for. There are three levels of certification; EDGE Assess, EDGE Move, EDGE Lead and these pertain to milestones and progress made by the organization.

As part of their requirements for certification, they undergo a peer assessment and commit to an action plan. They commit to what they will be doing over the next two years to improve results. In the recertification process, we start by looking at where companies are on their action plans. We look at what progress was made and then we go through the process of measurement again — how impactful the action plan was will be captured in the clear metrics associated with each of the four pillars.

Aniela Unguresan is the Co-founder of the EDGE Certified Foundation that runs the leading global gender certification to companies with gender-enlightened workplace policies. Prior to co-founding EDGE Certified Foundation, Aniela acquired extensive professional experience as a consultant with Arthur Andersen and Andersen Consulting, a trader and project manager with TXU Europe and SIG Geneva, and as the CEO of CT Technologies.

Aniela holds an MBA from the University of Geneva and a BA in International Trade from the academy of Economic Studies in Bucharest. Aniela strongly believes that the time has come for businesses to move from vision to action, and that the EDGE certification process will enable them to understand what is holding them back, whilst providing them with a roadmap to achieve better performance and more inclusive workplaces.

EDGE is the leading global assessment methodology and business certification standard for gender equality. It measures where organisations stand in terms of gender balance across their pipeline, pay equity, effectiveness of policies and practices to ensure equitable career flows as well as inclusiveness of their culture. Launched at the World Economic Forum in 2011, EDGE Certification has been designed to help companies not only create an optimal workplace for women and men, but also benefit from it. EDGE stands for Economic Dividends for Gender Equality and is distinguished by its rigor and focus on business impact.

EDGE assessment methodology was developed by the EDGE Certified Foundation, which continues to act as the guardian of the EDGE methodology and certification standards. Its commercial arm, EDGE Strategy, works with companies to prepare them for the EDGE Certification. EDGE Certification is currently working with nearly 200 organizations, in 50 countries and 23 industries.