Gender issues have long been key to Oxfam’s mission to fight poverty, but we have not previously given great prominence to the role of business in gender and development. Earlier in the month, to coincide with International Women’s Day, we rectified that by launching Gender Inequality: it’s your Business.
We recognise that many companies do protect gender rights in their operations and value chains, and it’s worth saying that there are a lot of imaginative and positive gender initiatives across banking, telecoms, consumer products and other sectors. However, at Oxfam we frequently worry that too many of these are CSR “add-ons”: not sufficiently central to a company’s operations, and actually only improving things for a relatively small number of the women that the company impacts. And that’s the “good” businesses who have actually developed gender initiatives.
So our report highlights that business performance on gender equality still has some way to go. But we also know that figuring out how to tackle the issues is not always a simple task, so our report provides some practical advice on how to make progress:
- First of all, analyse and report on your current situation. Whilst, for instance, the Global Reporting Initiative is increasingly followed by companies, and contains guidelines for gender-disaggregated reporting, very few companies analyse gender differences in pay, job positions, geography or career progression. And yet clearly if you are not monitoring it, then you are not controlling it.
- Next, once you know where the problems are, develop a remedial plan. This should cover recruitment, development and promotion practices, as well as pay. It includes being aware of how gender differences, such as the higher burden of care undertaken by women, affects each person’s ability to be productive and to progress.
- Third, ensure that you are taking this approach across your entire value chain: gendered job segregation – whereby women are over-represented in precarious, low-waged or informal sectors of the economy – is commonplace within value chains. So mapping and fully understanding your value chain is key, particularly to understand where “hidden” parts of production are being contracted out to vulnerable, informal sectors of the workforce. These are highly likely to be women. Fixing problems here will require working with local women’s groups, NGOs and trade unions who understand the local context. Solutions will require supporting your suppliers to improve HR practices and rewarding better suppliers with more business and longer-term contracts.
- Finally, and a point often missed by global food and beverages companies, is that the people doing the hard work growing your primary product are highly likely to be female – the FAO tells us that women produce up to 80% of food in some regions. Conducting robust research into the role of women producers in your supply base, and working with suppliers to get training and investment to them, will deliver productivity returns to you and your suppliers, increase the security and efficiency of food supply in your chain, as well as increase cash earned by marginalised female producers.
And the good news is that those who progress gender equality find significant practical benefits: for example, improved productivity, reduced staff turnover and access to a wider pool of talented staff at all levels of the organisation. Of course, none of this is easy. That’s why we have published a briefing that includes a lot more practical detail, and references to a wide collection of useful materials, to support executives and managers in achieving a more just gender balance. And even if you are not currently sitting in the boardroom, you can still help your company make progress on gender equality – send key execs a copy of Gender Inequality: it’s your Business, and then think about which of the activities we have set out you personally can influence.
Gerry BoyleWikipedia: Gerry ‘The Bee’ Boyle is an American novelist. →