Construction Industry’s First International Gender Equality Certification

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Supply and Construct company Rhodes PNG Ltd (Rhodes) has become the first company of its kind, not just in PNG but the world, to achieve the leading international business certification for gender equality – the Economic Dividends for Gender Equality (EDGE) certification.

The company embarked on the rigorous and independently audited certification process in 2018 because it wanted to be better at recruiting more women, retaining more women, and developing more women in to leadership positions.  “Having a gender equal workforce gives any company a competitive advantage” says Managing Director Emanuel Papas.  “But we’re not pursuing gender equality from purely a business rationale but also a moral imperative.  Giving women equal employment opportunities and therefore economic empowerment, especially in PNG where so many women are disadvantaged is simply the right thing to do.”

Rhodes had initiated a range of gender equality initiatives to assist both junior and senior National female staff prior to embarking on the EDGE program.  “We were already specifically targeting women to take on non-traditional roles such as forklift drivers, electricians, welders, steel fabricators and engineers” says HR Manager Ms Terry Welat.  “Women were also supported to embark on study and we put them through a variety of training, including leadership and management training with the Business Coalition for Women, an organisation we support via Board membership, as well as through our representation on its Addressing Violence working group.” 

The EDGE process, together with technical support from gender equality experts at the International Finance Corporation (IFC) in both PNG and Australia, helped Rhodes formalise and improve upon the good work they were already doing.  The company is moving towards a much more systematic and therefore efficient and effective approach of ‘doing’ gender equality.  “Rhodes is embedding gender equality via policies, systems and processes so that it becomes very much part of our culture and something that is understood and embraced throughout our entire business” says Papas. 

Rhodes is increasingly positioned as an ‘employer of choice’ for PNG women. “Even women who had not previously considered a job in construction are approaching us” says Ms Welat.  These women include those who have had minimal education and would typically have extremely limited employment opportunities.  Internally, Rhodes is providing pathways for some of their cleaning and housekeeping staff to transition in to other higher status and better paid roles such as heavy equipment operators.  “They are watching other women like them achieve and are then getting the confidence to take up these opportunities for themselves” explains Ms Welat. 

The EDGE certification comprises three levels of which Rhodes has achieved the first.  Papas says the company is in the process of working through a series of recommendations around the EDGE pillars of ‘Equal Pay for Equal Work’, ‘Recruitment & Promotion’, ‘Flexible Working’, ‘Leadership & Development Training & Mentoring’ and ‘Company Culture’.  In 2020 it is anticipated that Rhodes will have reached the 2nd level of certification, further positioning it as an ‘employer of choice’ for PNG women.

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