12 questions to:

Anna Potocka-Domin

Ania, thank you so much for participating in the ESG 12on12 project! It is a great honour for me.

You work for the United National Global Compact Network Poland – let’s explain to our readers what the UN is and what its corporate arm Global Compact is.

The United Nations was established after World War II to maintain peace and security in the world and to develop friendly relations between member states. Poland signed the UN Charter on 15 October 1945.

The UN Global Compact is the world’s largest initiative bringing together sustainable business. Since its establishment in 2000 by the UN Secretary-General it now has over 14,000 members from all over the world. The UN Global Compact Network Poland is the secretariat of the Polish UNGC members and an accelerator of local programmes and activities.

The mission of the United Nations Global Compact is to mobilize a global movement of sustainable companies and stakeholders to create safe, just and humane world we all aspire to. To make this happen, the United Nations Global Compact supports companies to operate responsibly by aligning strategies with the Global Compact’s Ten Principles on human rights, labour, environment and anti-corruption and to take strategic action to achieve broader societal goals, such as the UN Sustainable Development Goals, with a focus on collaboration and innovation.

In 2015, the UN adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals with targets for 2030. We have half the time left as humanity to achieve them – how are we doing? Are we doing better at any of them, and should we speed up at any of them?

It is not without reason that we talk about „ambitious goals” in this context. Responsible business all over the world, including Poland, has taken the implementation of SDGs (sustainable development goals) very seriously. Governments of many UN member states and their societies are also actively trying to implement the 2030 Agenda. The trouble is that while the responsible are becoming even more responsible, the world’s whiners, cynics and hypocrites are standing still and even opposing the sustainable development of the world. And the implementation of the Agenda will only be fully possible through the efforts of the whole world, which is the biggest challenge. However, „there are more people of good will…” and it is always worthwhile to be on that good side.

In recent years, more and more strategic actions in the field of climate protection, environment, green energy, clean water, sustainable agriculture, etc. implemented in partnerships: business – NGO – government, can be seen, also from the Polish perspective. Unfortunately, pandemics and wars slow down the pace of change, and even – as in the case of SDG 5 – gender equality – set us back by many years. We must therefore accelerate in each of the 17 goals, and even if only some of them are achieved by 2030, we cannot deviate from the path of sustainable development, or we will… die.

Out of these 17 goals, I wanted to focus on SDG5 i.e. gender equality. What is gender equality? How broad is this concept?

Gender equality is best explained by pointing out inequalities. Women, making up half of humanity, experience physical and economic violence and discrimination in all areas of life – from education, through workplace, wages, health, access to resources and to leadership, etc.

There are still countries in the world that sanction economic and physical violence against girls and women. Under the law and customs, women experience unimaginable suffering and harm. The UN, in its Agenda (SDG5), called for the rights of women and girls, for them to be treated equally (with men) in all aspects of life, and for us to be guaranteed „participation in decision-making processes at all levels in political, economic and public life, and equal opportunities in leadership positions”.

One aspect of equality is equal pay – UN Global Compact Network Poland has engaged in the #nieczekam107 (I do not wait 107 years) campaign to close the pay gap. What actions can companies that now have a high double-digit gender pay gap take?

In theory, simply eliminating the gender pay gap at company level does not seem difficult, but the key is to understand why it has arisen and what its consequences are. And in this aspect, the situation is much worse. I have heard many times how challenging it is for companies to eliminate the gender pay gap. Transparent remuneration policies, promotion and recruitment procedures are being created, but the process of eliminating the gender pay gap is extremely slow. And yet, if we have to, we can introduce such revolutionary changes overnight as during the pandemics. So you can, you just have to really want to. To end the hypocrisy of companies that, while supporting gender equality, at the same time maintain gender pay gap, regulation is needed, i.e. transparency of salaries (soon to be followed by the EU „equality” directive), pressure from responsible competition, contractors and other stakeholders, or initiatives such as the 30% Club and the UN GCNP.

Another aspect is creation of an inclusive work environment – the UN has created WEPs (Women’s Empowerment Principles) – what are they and how can they support companies?

WEPs, are a set of principles that offer guidance to companies on how to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment in the workplace, marketplace and community. Established by the UN Global Compact and UN Women, the principles are based on international labour and human rights standards.

As part of the UNGC, we run a global programme called Target Gender Equality (TGE), which aims to support companies on their journey to achieve gender equality. As part of TGE, companies have access to the latest knowledge in the area of gender equality, delivered at dedicated events and workshops. A very interesting tool for self-evaluation and evaluation of companies in terms of implementation of gender equality policies is the Gender Gap Analysis Tool offered within the TGE Women’s Empowerment Principles programme.

We are currently recruiting for the 3rd edition of TGE – you are cordially invited 🙂

The UN GC globally supports the 30% Club. We at 30% Club Poland are extremely grateful to have UN GC Poland as our supporter. The share of women in the boards (management + supervisory boards) of the 140 largest listed companies remains low, too low – at the end of 2021 it was 16.6%. What do you think is the key reason behind this situation?

We are very happy to support the 30% Club Poland initiative, we have common goals and it is great that we can achieve them together.

There are many reasons for such a low share of women on company boards. In the latest 30% Club report (with the support of UN GCNP) there is a deep analysis of the reasons for this phenomenon. I have my own personal ranking. In first place is the lack of understanding of what gender equality is and what its business benefits are. Ex aequo – lack of will to genuinely challenge discrimination against women in business, stemming from unwillingness to share 'power and money’.

I am continually baffled by attempts to question or ignore facts, studies and examples of the many benefits of women in corporate boardrooms. The problem of women not being included in all aspects of life is brilliantly analysed by Caroline Criado Perez in „Invisible Women”, which I highly recommend.  

Many studies show that diversity has its value. What is lost in companies where only one gender can reach the top of the corporate hierarchy?

They lose money big time. And also, by maintaining the status quo, they will lose prestige, market position, talent, customers, money… And they will be excluded from the group of ethical and responsible companies, which is the best way to self-destruction. In our dynamic reality, with growing social awareness of equality, the twilight of conservative leadership blind to the challenges of the modern world, emanated by Agenda 2030, will soon come.

You’re a strong advocate of feminatives (female endings). Thanks to you, I’ve started using them more often too. Why are they so important and yet – I think for both genders – not easy to get used to and use?

I became convinced of the use of feminatives only a few years ago and have been an advocate of their use ever since. Surprisingly, we can find even the most punny use of them in the pre-war press. So they were already in our language, but were thrown out of it. They survived only in professions that do not enjoy prestige and those that have long been strongly feminised and less well paid. Where we have position and money, we do not use feminatives. In this way, we perpetuate the cultural and social conviction that a president, director, rector, professor, doctor, lawyer, prime minister, etc. is „by nature” a man, and if women sometimes appear there, it is as usurpers or „women occupying a place that belongs to men”. To quote an outstanding linguist, Prof. Jacek Wasilewski of the University of Warsaw, who writes about the role of feminatives: language matters and shapes our consciousness, our beliefs. When we say „CEO”, we see a man. And when we say „she-CEO”, we immediately see a woman. Not 'CEO’, which is a woman who works in a male profession.

Yes, feminativities in prestigious professions will make us squirm because they are not natural to us. Their use is treated with disrespect or at least great distance. And most often considered as some kind of linguistic oddity. I used to be like that too, and I still get mocking smiles when I use them consistently. But then I remind myself that it’s worth it, because in this way more girls and women, but also boys and men, will start to see women – CEOs, directors, prime ministers, doctors, lawyers, etc. And not only: cleaners, nurses, cooks, etc. – Somehow we have no problems accepting feminism there. So it’s worth it, and I’m glad that you’re convinced about them too.

Diversity is not just about gender – it is also about nationality. Currently, more than 3 million war refugees from Ukraine have crossed our eastern border. Most of them are women. How do we integrate them into our society?

This is a major challenge for our society as a whole. It requires from us particular sensitivity and empathy. And to see in refugee women like us – ambitious, hard-working, educated. But at the same time they face the trauma of war, separation from the loved ones, loss and fear. Women who are exposed to violence more than Polish women. Let us all learn empathy and sensitivity, let us fight against stereotypes and our own fears. And let us help, just as we would help our friends.  

These are often very well-educated women who, before the war, ran their own companies, managed businesses or were scientists. Will there be room for them in the boards of Polish companies? What should be done to make this happen?

I am not optimistic about this. Polish companies are not, as we know, ready for women in management boards. This is why most of these refugees have already found work in Western European countries, or are planning a rapid return to their homeland, to their company or university. A frequent barrier to planning a career in our country is also the lack of knowledge of the Polish language.

Another element of diversity is parenthood. What challenges do mothers who want to be economically active face?

There is a well-known term penalty for 'motherhood’ – women, even if they want to return to work quickly after having a child, experience a 'brake’ in their career. Employers – although this is slowly changing – are not ready for working mothers. They need flexible working hours, possibility to work remotely, they are not ready for longer business trips, etc. Another sizeable burden is the stereotypical perception of a woman’s role in the family – burdened with parental duties and caring for elderly family members.

Women and men are both parents. What changes need to take place in our society so that the burden on women of motherhood, unpaid work in the home and caring for the elderly decreases?

I am in favour of radical changes that must take place in our society. We no longer have time to wait. The family model is changing, with more and more fathers genuinely sharing parenting and caring responsibilities. In August this year, the Work-life-balance directive supporting parental equality and promoting leave for working fathers will come into force. Although the pandemic has exacerbated previous inequalities, further increasing the disparity between men and women in the length of unpaid work at home, I believe in the strength and solidarity of women who will continue to support each other on the road to equality. There are also more and more men who are committed to fighting discrimination against women – at work, at home and in their social lives. I remain optimistic that most people want a just world, of which gender equality is an important part.

Ania, thank you so much for taking the time to share your experience!

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