Monday, February 19, 2007

Gender: Hotter than Climate Change in the USA?

Most people think that the climate agenda will drown out all other issues of environmental or social injustice in the coming period, but gender issues managed to steal a little space in the limelight over the past two weeks in the USA.

One out of every 300 people in the USA work for Wal-Mart in some capacity - and two thirds of these are women. Last week a federal judge in San Francisco granted class-action status to a sex-discrimination lawsuit against Wal-Mart Stores, the nation's largest employer. The case, which now covers as many as 1.6 million current and former female Wal-Mart employees, can be decided en masse because it is based on a statistical analysis that shows Wal-Mart paid female workers less and gave them fewer promotions than men. Although it will be a long and windy road, and major multi-million (or billion!) dollar payouts are rare, it has already resulted in companies everywhere taking a closer look at their own gender practices. Already a victory if you look at it in that way.

Harvard University, a place famous for its liberal thinking and MBA case studies designed to help companies avoid such crises, itself has been gripped in a gender scandal. About a year ago the then president, Larry Summers, made some unpoetic comments about the differences between the sexes which seem to have been the cause of his eventual downfall. This week Harvard named Drew Gilpin Faust as its new president - the first woman to hold the post in that institution's long history.

(Sidenote - elsewhere in the world it was announced recently that Ms. Julia Marton-Lefèvre was appointed as IUCN's new Director General - filling the rather large shoes of outgoing DG Achim Steiner - now Executive Director of UNEP. Congratulations to IUCN, the worlds largest union of NGOs working toward environmental conservation, on this appointment and a new era.)

Now the big question on everyone's mind in the USA: Is the country ready for its first female president?

Keep your eyes on the GRI website for a new resource on gender and sustainability reporting in the coming months.

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