An increasing number of businesses have committed to create more diverse, gender-balanced, inclusive workplaces – recognizing that it is not only the right thing to do, but also makes business sense.
This recognition of the value of gender equality is progress in itself – but pursuing change in this area is not simple, particularly for companies operating in emerging markets where a lack of gender-specific data can make it difficult to create economic opportunities for women.
Even the best-intentioned executives are asking: where to begin?
One answer is to get started with a gender audit. This involves a root-and-branch survey of a company’s gender metrics, including existing diversity, the potential for men and women to be promoted, the suitability of the working environment, and retention rates filtered by gender.
Such an audit can, for example, uncover what percentage of male and female employees return from parental leave, how many staff have been trained on sexual harassment, and other important metrics. The answers will help form the basis of an effective gender strategy.
To guide this process, IFC has developed a gender toolkit for companies in the infrastructure and natural resources sectors, offering a roadmap to conducting such an audit and designing a customized action plan to address obstacles to equality and inclusion in the workplace, across the supply chain, and in the communities in which they operate or invest. The recommendations are geared toward emerging market contexts but are applicable for companies operating in advanced economies as well.
The toolkit can also help businesses wanting to support greater gender equality in the communities affected by their projects or investments, including guidance on the hiring of community-outreach gender experts or the designing of engagement initiatives that benefit both women and men. It also offers guidelines for developing and supporting women-owned businesses in supply chains, and for identifying, preventing, and remedying situations of gender-based violence (both in the workplace and at home).
Numerous studies have revealed a strong correlation between improved financial performance and having women in leadership. Diversity and inclusion have also been shown to bring increased productivity, improved operational efficiency, better access to finance, stronger community relations, and reduced risk overall.
There is also a business case for oil, gas, and mining companies in particular to support women-owned local enterprises in their supply chains – doing so can increase competition and drive down costs between vendors; facilitate innovation and collaboration with smaller suppliers; and improve relationships with the community, in the process helping preserve their projects’ license to operate.
Companies of all sizes and from all sectors would benefit from taking stock of their gender metrics and then being systematic about advancing gender equality throughout their operations: in the boardroom, in the workforce, and in the communities in which they operate. It is time for corporate leaders to tackle inequality like the financial strain that it is, getting to its root causes and addressing them in full.