Female leaders step up call for gender equality

AS is customary during special occasions in trading, the Jamaica Stock Exchange (JSE) rings the bell. On Monday, March 8, however, the ringing had nothing to do with stock trading, but calls for a gender equal society and embracing women in leadership.

Phadra Saunders, director, People Business Partner, Flow Jamaica, was among the female business leaders making the call to action during the JSE’s bell ringing ceremony in celebration of International Women’s Day (IWD).

Discussing the UN Women’s 2021 IWD theme ‘Women in Leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world’, Saunders pointed to her organisation’s recognition and reward of female contributions through its equality, diversity and inclusion policies, urging other companies to take a similar approach.

This, she said, is against the background of women taking on expanded functions as caregivers, juggling work from home and having to deal simultaneously with homeschooling their children during the pandemic.

“At Flow Jamaica, we’ve been on a journey to build a more balanced and inclusive workplace anchored by our equality, diversity & inclusion (EDI) policies,” said Saunders. She said seven of the company’s 14 senior leaders are women, four of whom serve in roles that are traditionally male-dominated.

Underscoring the inclusive policies across the Liberty Latin America (LLA) Group of which Flow is a subsidiary, she also noted that the CEO of C&W Communications, Flow’s immediate parent company, is a woman. “Our policies, across the LLA Group, ensure that each person has a chance for success based on merit,” she stated.

Saunders continued: “As we champion EDI, we also recognise that our people need different forms of support – whether it means accessing additional time off to care for a newborn or to take care of family matters. We’re here to support all our employees and this informs our journey.”

Flow Jamaica has led several initiatives supporting gender equality in recent years. In 2018, the company signed on to the UN Women WIN-WIN Programme in support of the Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs); in 2019, the company implemented a progressive Parental Leave Policy (PLP), wherein eight weeks of paid leave is granted to employees (male or female) following the birth of a child, placement of a child with an employee through adoption or foster care, or birth of a child via gestational surrogacy.

Birth mothers are also provided with up to an additional eight weeks of paid leave.

“We are especially proud that this is the first policy of its kind in the telecommunications industry in the region,” said Saunders.

The company also rolled out a Flexible Work Framework in 2019 which was enhanced when the pandemic hit last year. This is built around trust, focused on results, and is designed to support the current working reality, recognising the dynamics and balance between personal and professional life. This year, Flow Jamaica has introduced a Flexible Paid Time Off Policy, which grants employees paid unlimited time off, beyond their statutory entitlement.

Minister of Culture, Gender, Education and Sport Olivia Grange, the main speaker at the bell ringing, called for a celebration of “women who have made sacrifices for the greater good…women on the front line who are fighting COVID-19, risk takers who stand up and advocate for the vulnerable and powerless within society”.

Minister Grange also encouraged more women to position themselves for placement in the field of technology.

“I am proud of women’s achievements in education, but we need more women to pursue business, science, technology, engineering and math. We are engaging more young women. We are offering more scholarships,” she said.

Marlene Street Forrest, managing director of the Jamaica Stock Exchange, in her address, said special consideration must be given by employers to a woman executing her functions in the COVID-19 environment.

“Given the current societal disruption…there should be no age, no stage or boundaries to women’s right to equality, and no action should be too small or too large to ensure women are given equal opportunities to excel,” Street Forrest said.

Also making presentations at the JSE event were Ambassador Marianne Van Steen, head of delegation, European Union, represented by Richard Bardia Nivinn; Tonni Ann Brodber, representative, UN Women Multi-Country Office – Caribbean; Marisela Alveranga, head of financial institutions, IDB Invest, and Monique French, chief credit officer, CIBC FirstCaribbean.


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