Gender equality is one of the essential pieces of the global prosperity puzzle. Women represent almost half of the global population and thus, also possess half of its potential. Yet inequalities faced by women are so deeply rooted and persistent, that we are lagging behind in our progress towards the gender equality targets set out in the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
There are 2.4 billion women globally who are deprived of equal economic rights. This is despite evidence pointing to a strong business case for gender equality. In fact, if the lifetime earnings gap between women and men was closed, it is estimated that we could achieve a ‘gender dividend’ of $172 trillion. While progress has been made, the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, and other global challenges have disproportionately impacted women and even reversed gains for women’s rights. If we hope to achieve the SDGs by 2030, we need to bridge this gap through comprehensive investments and policy reforms that center gender equality.
MEDA’s Gender Equality Mainstreaming (GEM) Framework
Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA) is working at the forefront of gender-focused business solutions to advance gender equality and women’s empowerment. We promote women’s agricultural value chains in Myanmar, Jordan, and Ghana, and initiate innovative business service models for women in Pakistan, Libya, and Ethiopia. These programs have consistently proven that women create robust economic benefits for their communities through sound business acumen whenever they are given the chance.
In 2018, MEDA launched the Gender Equality Mainstreaming (GEM) Framework as a tool for investors, businesses, and capacity builders to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment while improving their business impact and growth. The framework is built on environmental, social, and governance (ESG) investment standards, mainstreaming gender equality across these criteria.
The GEM Framework, which is also aligned with the 2X Challenge criteria, examines how women benefit and participate across company operations, as entrepreneurs and business owners, and as managers, board members, employees, suppliers, and customers. In addition to giving direction, it affords flexibility for implementation to better serve business needs, as GEM is unique to the impact propositions of companies and investment funds. Since it takes a wide perspective of gender, the framework provides fund managers and investment professionals with the knowledge they need to advance their level of gender equality mainstreaming – from simply accounting for women, to perceiving gender as a value creator.
Innovations in gender mainstreaming
To date, the GEM Framework has been applied by more than 40 organizations. We have learned that investors and businesses are more likely to use a gender lens when it positively influences business performance. Through client feedback and training experiences, MEDA synthesized insights to bring innovations to GEM in 2022. The toolkit now includes a diversity, equity, and inclusion perspective, modifications to suit the specific needs of different regions, and multiple languages, fueling greater adoption across the world.
The updated GEM Framework also unites sustainability and climate change mitigation with gender equality efforts. On Earth Day 2023, MEDA revealed the updated framework in recognition of the critical role women play in environment and climate efforts. Additional questions and scoring criteria are included, promoting practices to avoid, reduce, or mitigate pollution and climate impacts while encouraging conservation. The six-step framework also provides guidance for companies to avoid, reduce, and/or mitigate risks related to environment and climate from a gendered perspective.
Ongoing growth and impact
In 2023, MEDA’s research team engaged GEM clients through surveys to ensure continuous improvement. This research included ten exemplary businesses from across Africa, Asia, and Latin America in numerous sectors and comprising many business sizes. Their reflections on the GEM process were overwhelmingly positive.
Respondents indicated an increase in their knowledge of gender mainstreaming and in the positive impact of gender equality in their workplaces. They found the tool easy to use and that it led to better comprehension of the connection between gender equality and business performance, which was evident in changes witnessed across the organizations. The GEM Framework had a net promoter score of +70 on a scale ranging from -100 to +100, indicating satisfaction with the tool and associated support.
The tool sparked healthy conversations about the role of women in the workplace, which resulted in a reframed approach to managing areas across the organization. First, many participants noted how undergoing GEM required them to have complex conversations about the composition of their boards, senior management teams, and other vital staff positions. Several others came to the realization that they needed to revamp their human resources policies and to pay closer attention to specific issues such as proactive recruitment policies targeting women and excluded groups, improved pay equity, improved employee satisfaction, workplace sexual harassment prevention, and maternity leave benefits.
Second, the GEM Framework delivered business benefits by changing perspectives on marketing to women customers. One respondent said that the GEM review encouraged their organization to reflect on its sales pitch and how they may have inadvertently excluded women customers. It also encouraged the recruitment of women sales staff to boost the number of women clients.
Although more work needs to be done to link the change in revenues to the GEM Framework, all survey respondents indicated an increase in revenues and net income between the time the GEM Framework was launched and when the survey was conducted. Many believed it was a result of the changes made through GEM. Employment also rose for both genders, with a greater increase in women employees. Increases in staffing and performance were attributed to better human resources policies and cross-divisional teamwork, with reduced turnover rates overall. Some respondents attributed the increased performance to hiring new staff, which grew their women client base.
As we look towards 2030, our hope is that the updated GEM Framework and the results of MEDA’s research will serve as useful resources and provide a stepping-stone for investors, businesses, and capacity builders in their journeys toward impactful and sustainable growth powered by gender equality.
MEDA’s updated GEM Framework can be downloaded here.