Sonia is a female garment worker in Bangladesh, who, like many of her peers, has struggled to communicate about work issues with her factory supervisor, as well as discuss family problems with her husband. However, after participating in the Gap Inc. P.A.C.E. (Personal Advancement & Career Enhancement) program Sonia has become more adept at expressing herself.
“I have learned how to communicate effectively. Now I can solve any problem in the workplace by discussing it with the supervisor and line leader,” she said. “Before P.A.C.E., I could not clearly discuss problems with my husband. Now I do not hesitate to talk to him and can clearly express any idea or problem.”
Improved communication is just one of several positive P.A.C.E. program outcomes documented in a new report
by the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) based on its multi-country evaluation of the program. Launched in 2007, Gap Inc. P.A.C.E. is a comprehensive learning program for female garment workers. The program operates in seven countries in Asia, reaching more than 20,000 women to date.
Although women comprise approximately 80 percent of the global garment industry workforce, relatively few advance to higher-level management positions, as they have limited opportunities to acquire the skill set to enable their professional and personal growth.
P.A.C.E addresses this gap by providing 65 to 80 hours of life skills education – such as communication skills, time and stress management, financial literacy and problem solving & decision making – followed by the opportunity for the women to participate in enhanced technical training. The program is unique because it focuses not only on bettering women’s work lives, but also improving aspects of their personal lives as well.
“P.A.C.E. was designed to be truly transformative for garment workers across countries, and ICRW’s evaluation gives us the evidence that it is delivering results. The program achieves its goals by providing women with the skills and education needed to advance at work , transforming their sense of self, and most importantly, allowing them to dream bigger than ever before,” said Dotti Hatcher, Executive Director, Gap Inc. P.A.C.E. Global Initiatives.
ICRW conducted its evaluation from 2009 to 2013 in six factory sites – two in India and one each in Cambodia, Vietnam, Bangladesh and China, surveying nearly a thousand women before and after their participation in the program. ICRW researchers also conducted in-depth interviews with P.A.C.E. graduates and factory management at each site.
ICRW found marked improvements in women’s self-esteem and self-efficacy, or belief in one’s own ability to accomplish goals. For example, across all sites, only 35 percent of P.A.C.E. participants had a high level of self-esteem at the start of the program. This rose to 52 percent by the end of the program, representing a 49 percent increase globally. Overall, the women grew more confident in dealing with work and family situations. They also thought more about the future and developed a heightened recognition of their own worth. Self-efficacy also improved, rising by 150 percent across the six sites.
“P.A.C.E. taught me that I can have higher aspirations,” one graduate from India said. “I would have never thought I could become a supervisor, but my confidence increased and I have achieved that … I learned from P.A.C.E. how to set goals.”
Additionally, ICRW documented improvements in business outcomes; the number of women who reported a high level of work efficacy, as well as a positive influence on the workplace environment, doubled over the course of the program. Factory supervisors also noted positive changes in the work environment, reporting that P.A.C.E. participants increasingly sought suggestions to improve their work performance, had stronger communication skills and willingness to help others. Additional data suggest that, in some factories, P.A.C.E. is helping to improve retention and leading to more promotions among its graduates.
“While many of the women still face adversity, they say they now have the courage and skills to take on life’s challenges,” said Priya Nanda
of ICRW, who led the evaluation and co-authored the report. “Now, unlike before, they can imagine the path to a better future for themselves and their families.”
The learning from this comprehensive evaluation is helping Gap Inc. further refine the P.A.C.E. program – and inform the program’s further development as it continues to expand across countries.
“ICRW’s findings can also help guide increasing number of corporations investing in women’s social and economic advancement,” added Nanda. “Our results add to the evidence base on why we need to advance women and, most importantly, how it can be done effectively.”
Ellen Weiss is the senior advisor for research utilization and development at ICRW. She contributed to the production of the report on ICRW’s evaluation of Gap Inc. P.A.C.E.