Empowering women for leadership

24 Aug 2020

Better Work’s global gender strategy strives for a society where women and men are free from gender-based discrimination, have equal and decent work opportunities, are able to access their rights, and have equal voice and representation. We believe this vision can become a reality in the workplace in Bangladesh, despite it being
a traditionally male-dominant society. In Bangladesh’s RMG factories, 19 out of every 20 line supervisors are men despite 80% of workers being women. Better Work and the IFC responded to this issue through the GEAR initiative — which sets out to help women to build their competencies to advance their careers.

GEAR offers female workers a 10-day training course on the technical requirements of becoming supervisors. The trainees then spend 6-8 weeks working on a production line as trainee supervisors to eventually take on supervisory roles. The outcomes of GEAR pilot phase (November 2016 to December 2017) made it clear that the programme had the potential to overturn the industry’s gender blind spots and in turn benefit both the female workers and the factories employing them. In the initial phase, GEAR trained 144 female workers, 58 of whom became supervisors. An impact assessment carried out by the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom showed that:
♦ Lines led by GEAR-trained females experienced an average increase of 5% in efficiency;
♦ GEAR-promoted female supervisors saw — on average — a 39% increase in salary;
♦ The average percentage of female supervisors rose from 7% to 15% in 28 participating factories;
♦ Other benefits such as reduced absenteeism and lower defect rates.

Following this successful pilot, in March 2019, the ILO and the IFC started to scale-up GEAR to train approximately 500 female operators and their managers in 50 factories by 2021.

In 2019, 48 factories enrolled on the programme, 106 line supervisors completed GEAR, 79 have since been promoted to supervisory positions. A further 135 female line supervisors are currently enrolled on the GEAR programme.

Working with brands to address sexual harassment

Tackling violence and harassment at work, including sexual harassment has taken centre stage. Based on ILO Convention 190 on violence and harassment, a gender-based
violence training manual has been developed and distributed in factories, and continues to be reinforced via ongoing advisory services with factories, and capacity building with constituents. Better Work Bangladesh has increasingly expanded training to enterprises outside the programme, delivering tailored training packages, which aim to address individual factories issues, factory group issues, and industry level issues. The training ensures factories can build the culture and procedures to mitigate and address sexual harassment.

The programme has recorded factories taking greater strides to mitigating and address sexual harassment in their places of work. This is reflected in the greater demand and engagement around training on the issues:
♦ 24 training sessions on preventing sexual harassment;
♦ A five-day intensive training intervention for middle and top management of a manufacturing group;
♦ Two ‘Violence and Harassment in the Workplace’ training sessions, focusing on senior factory level management.

The 2020 COVID-19 global health crisis has left female supervisors and workers, especially women, facing vulnerable situations, including physical and mental health risks and socio-economic challenges. As women supervisors directly manage teams of between 25-35, they have become the hardest hit group. As part of our crisis response, we are conducting virtual mediation exchanges with GEAR participants to ensure they can protect themselves and garments workers from COVID-19 and its potential impacts.

1. To support female supervisors to exercise their leadership skills through managing COVID-19 crisis response;
2. To disseminate awareness information to workers and production management;
3. To continue to support GEAR women supervisors to become change makers and ambassadors.

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