By Melissa J. Anderson (New York City)

“Gender equality needs to be a strategic priority for organizations. It demands all of the rigor companies usually display when pursuing business-critical objectives and the full commitment of top leadership,” said Aniela Unguresan, co-founder (along with Nicole Schwab) of The Gender Equality Project, a new benchmarking and certification initiative backed by the World Economic Forum and several multinational corporations.

According to Unguresan, the goal of The Gender Equality Project is to enable the world’s largest firms to, both quantitatively and qualitatively, measure progress toward gender equality.

What makes The Gender Equality Project stand out, she explained, is that it enables participating firms not only to measure their own progress, but also to accelerate the pace of change by implementing a standardized assessment methodology that can be applied across different industries and regions. This assessment methodology will serve as a basis for the first global certification system in gender equality.

The Importance of Benchmarking

The Gender Equality Project, based in Switzerland, works in partnership with the World Economic Forum. In years past, the WEF has shone a spotlight on gender equality – and this year is no different.

After years of preparation, the GEP’s assessment methodology will be launched this week at Davos as well, amid discussion of the strategic value of gender diversity and the critical necessity to include women in the network of the global economic elite.

“Gender has been on the corporate agenda for a number of years,” Unguresan said, “but progress has not matched aspirations.” She cited numbers revealing the persistent inequality of women in the economic sphere. For example, she said, women worldwide only earn 85% of what men earn. Men hold more positions of responsibility. Women only compose about 10% of corporate boards worldwide.

“It’s our experience within the corporate environment that what gets measured gets done,” Unguresan explained.

By measuring and comparing their progress toward defined goals, just like any other strategic initiative, companies can begin to make headway in the global problem of gender inequality in the workplace. After the launch of its assessment methodology, the Gender Equality project will make available a self-assessment tool and will put in place a global certification system– a veritable stamp of approval for gender equality.

Equality Across Borders

Ungereisen believes a more clear-cut way to measure progress or lack there-of will enable companies to move more swiftly toward gender equality. Additionally, because the GEP works across regions and industries, women across the globe should benefit from its use.

The methodology measures companies in five areas of assessment: equal pay for equivalent work, recruitment and promotion, training and mentoring, work-life balance, and company culture. Because the measures are both qualitative and quantitative, companies can hope to avoid a purely numbers-game approach to gender equality with detailed insight from the employees themselves, while still adhering to principles of statistical analysis.

“The universality of this assessment methodology should accelerate the rhythm of change,” she explained.

Editorial note: The Gender Equality Project will announce its first partner companies on Friday, January 28 – check back later this week to find out who will be participating in this initiative.