Gender Equality: An Interview with Cristina Lunghi

"Today, it is necessary to understand the issue of gender equality in the workplace from the perspective of business performance."

A doctor in European law, Cristina Lunghi created the Arborus Association in 1995, specializing in questions of gender equality and equal opportunity in the workplace. A national expert on these issues to the European Commission for the past 20 years, she is the spokesperson of the Club Label Egalité (Gender Equality Certification Club). She has written several books, including, And if Women Reinvented Work (Ed. d’Organisation 2011,) Workplace Gender Equality in Practice (Ed. Eyrolles 2001-2002), and Blue, White, Pink: Are Women the Future of Politics?  (Ed. First 2006).

Though a variety of different projects, Cristina Lunghi has taken part in the collective reflection on professional gender equality, as policy officer to the Ministry of Gender and Equality for the development of the gender equality certification, and as the spokesperson of the “Club du Label Egalité.”

She contributes to European programs on the question of gender and discrimination, and is a member of the commission within the ANDRH (National Association of Human Resources Directors) devoted to the prevention of discrimination. She was member of the Observatory for Gender Parity, which is a service of the Prime Minister and of the regulatory commission on HR processes and diversity within AFNOR (International Organization for Standardization). She was responsible for the creation of the gender equality certification. She also took part in the development of the diversity certification. She supports businesses in their approach to workforce gender equality and certification within the consulting firm La Jardinerie de L’Egalité.

How would you define the concept of gender equality in the workplace?

Workplace gender equality was initially a legal concept issued by the International Labour Organization in 1919 for economic reasons. At the end of World War I, women had replaced men in the factories, and it became necessary to contain this problem of social dumping. Today, we see that the notion of equality between men and women in the professional sphere is still rooted in protection and coercion. We must instead envisage the idea of gender equality in the workplace as a way of looking at things across the board and reorganizing systems, within businesses and in other spheres.

Why is this subject not included from the viewpoint of performance?

The issue of workplace gender equality is often still propped up by female militants with a perspective that is not economic; moreover, the approach is often biased, notably through gender issues and stereotypes that distort the subject. The law may also contribute to this confusion. It is therefore necessary to position, in an almost systematic manner, the benefits and the performance gained in a company by the establishment of comprehensive programs that develop professional equality. It is also necessary to strike a balance between the normative and the notion of equity, so as not to fall into reverse discrimination.

Furthermore, when we question performance, we often go on indicators and evaluations. Yet it is not the performance of women that we must measure, but instead, we must measure a policy of equal opportunity for women and men, of the benefits of diversity and of teams in which this notion of equality is rooted. Workplace performance is closely related to that of human capital, and therefore of talent and employees, with all of their differences and their complementarities.

Do you have feedback from the companies that have established workplace gender equality policies?

The "Club du Label Égalité" (Gender Equality Certification Club) just published a book, 10 Years of Equal Opportunity in Practice: Liberating the Creative Energy of Companies with the Gender Equality Label (Ed. l’Harmattan), which lists some of the steps taken by companies with regard to gender equality certification criteria, and analyzes the real impact on the business—its processes and its culture. Autocar Planche instituted a program in partnership with the state-run unemployment office and its affiliated OPCA (vocational training organization) in the transportation industry that helps train women to drive buses. This has resulted in the mass recruitment of women and a less gendered perception of the bus-driving profession. All of these measures are changing business over time…its culture, its sense of togetherness, and its competitiveness.

Who are the primary actors involved in business?

The primary actor is the person in charge, which for the most part is human resources. But political support from management is indispensable. Social partners and managers, conveyors of information, and all employees must be acculturated and understand the economic stakes of workplace gender equality. This is not just a legal requirement! This is a social issue that needs to win support and consensus to create a common culture of equality.

What advice would you give to a leader or human resources director?

The first essential thing is that the person must be committed to the issues pertaining to gender equality in the workplace and wish to develop a forward-looking perspective for his/her colleagues and business and not make this simply a “women’s issue.” Following the policy project, it necessary to put into words and develop argued messages to inform and engage the different actors, internal and external. Finally, as with any project, to innovate you must surround yourself with the best people, and allow for the development of this policy within the heart of the business, all while respecting its culture. 




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