Women work two-thirds of the world's working hours, yet earn a mere 10 percent of the world's income and own less than 1 percent of the world's property. In the developing world, the garment industry is a leading employer of low-skilled female workers, second only to agriculture. Although 80 percent of garment workers are women, very few make it up the ladder to management positions.
"Many garment workers are coming from rural areas, and most do not recognize that there are opportunities to advance their careers," says Dotti Hatcher, executive director of Gap Inc.'s global P.A.C.E. program. "Many of them have very challenging lives and have many duties at home in addition to their work lives. There is a lot of data that will tell you that women in unskilled work in the developing world don’t have a belief in self, and it can be more difficult for them to obtain the knowledge they need to advance their careers."
Gap Inc.'s highly successful P.A.C.E. (Personal Advancement & Career Enhancement) program addresses this barrier and assists women in developing the foundational life skills to advance in their personal lives and the workplace, in a collaborative, holistic and sustainable initiative. An investment in women has a ripple effect, proving also to be an investment in her family and her community. Gap Inc.'s P.A.C.E. program addresses time and stress management, general and reproductive health, communication, problem solving and decision making, and financial literacy.
From India to Cambodia, more than 25,000 women in the garment industry from seven countries have participated in this 65- to 80-hour workplace education initiative since it launched in 2007. P.A.C.E. is a collaboration between Gap Inc., factory owners, NGO partners and female garment workers, resulting in a program that addresses the interests of all the stakeholders. It is a voluntary program, both for the garment workers and the factory owners. The data regarding program results is impressive, as are the stories of the women touched by this initiative.
“I had an issue with my workload – I could not finish sewing on time," says a P.A.C.E. graduate from Cambodia. "But now the problem is resolved because I decided to talk to my line leader about it. Earlier I was not confident enough to discuss it with her and so I kept working unhappily and left work late. I have routines now, and I use time more effectively. My wages have increased as a result of my improved work.”
Hatcher spoke of a woman who was profoundly touched by the P.A.C.E., program shortly after it was introduced in China.
An illiterate woman volunteered to participate before the program offered literacy training. Functional literacy is an important requirement for participants to reap the most benefit from the opportunity. Even though the woman wasn't in the class officially (because she was illiterate), she came to class every week and would stay after for extra help. She lived in a dormitory with other workers, and they also supported her in understanding the material. She later took literacy classes at night after working in the factory, so her literacy level increased significantly.
"This woman went on to complete the full [P.A.C.E.] training and since that point has become a mentor to other women in the factory," says Hatcher. "What I love most about this is that as an illiterate woman, she had the tenacity to come back and try because she knew [what] she was learning through the program was important and is now a mentor to other women."
The impact of the training is making a noticeable different in the garment factories. "If you look at how this has changed the lives [of program graduates], we’re seeing workers that are being promoted or advancing in the factory three times as fast as the workers that haven’t gone through the P.A.C.E. program," explains Hatcher. "We’re seeing a change in the factories with supervisors that were all men just four, five or six years ago."
According to a study on Gap Inc.'s P.A.C.E. program by the International Center for Research on Women, graduates show a 49 percent increase in self-esteem, resulting in greater confidence in dealing with work and family situations, a more forward-thinking mindset, and an increased recognition of their self worth. Graduates showed a 150 percent increase in self-efficacy, demonstrating increased confidence in realizing goals or tasks at home and at work, and performing work more efficiently. The study also found a 119 percent increase in work-efficacy and a 100 percent increase workplace influence, boosting both the quality of work and productivity and improving relationships with co-workers and supervisors.
Many factory owners have also been enthusiastic about the results of Gap Inc.'s P.A.C.E. program, and the program is having a tangible benefit on the triple bottom line. "We are seeing that vendor operations are benefiting," explains Hatcher. "Retention in the garment industry is typically very low. The vendor data is saying that the women that have gone through the PACE program are being retained longer. There is more loyalty to the vendor because they are giving the women learning opportunities that are needed in the workplace. The efficiency of the operation is being increased among women that have gone through the program and they are more productive. This is a direct bottom line impact to the vendor."
Gap Inc. has historically invested in the communities where it does business, both in the U.S. and internationally, but the creation of the P.A.C.E. program embodies a new approach. "We've built health clinics and contributed to the building of schools," says Hatcher. "The approach was to identify a need and support the funding of an initiative or program that addressed that need. This is all very good work, but over time it was not sustainable.
"We were looking at how we were investing and making it more closely aligned with our business interests, so it would be sustained over time. We wanted an initiative that could be implemented in the factory setting, that could be sustained by having vendors integrate it into their normal business practices, and address the specific needs of the women."
Although the social benefits of Gap Inc.'s P.A.C.E. program are priceless, the financial benefit for the company is much more difficult to calculate. "Even if you can change one person’s life, it is something you can’t put a dollar sign on," says Hatcher. "It is part of who we are as a company and is part of Gap Inc.'s DNA. It is great to work for a company that will invest this way and doesn't immediately look to us for the ROI."
Photo courtesy of Gap Inc.
Sarah Lozanova is an environmental journalist and copywriter and has worked as a consultant to help large corporations become more sustainable. She is the author of Humane Home: Easy Steps for Sustainable & Green Living, and her renewable energy experience includes residential and commercial solar energy installations. She teaches green business classes to graduate students at Unity College and holds an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio Graduate School.