Gender equality: it’s your business too

March 2023

This week, many people hit the streets to march for Women’s Rights and gender equality. While at first sight, gender inequality seems to be a social and cultural phenomenon for governments to deal with, businesses do not operate in a vacuum. There are strong business, ethical and legal imperatives for delivering on gender equality throughout value chains and business operations. As experienced advisors in business and human rights, we have encountered various examples where women were disproportionally affected by a company’s activities. While approaching business and human rights issues through a gender lens is not only the right thing to do – we believe it’s also good for business.

Why does gender matter to business?

Women workers constitute more than 40 per cent of the global workforce. However, they are generally overrepresented in the lowest paid, most insecure and vulnerable jobs. We have experienced that policies and practices of a company have a vastly different impact on women compared to men, both those directly employed as well as those working across the supply chain.

While #Metoo showed the devastating impacts of sexual harrasment, also at the workplace, women are faced with other challenges too. For instance, changing orders at short notice might mean workers have to work overtime to meet new deadlines. This, however, affects women’s unpaid care responsibilities, which they tend to bear the largest burden of. In addition, women’s safety can also be put at risk when having to commute later at night, after an overtime shift. Furthermore, women can be denied the right to own land, are less likely to enjoy trade union representation and often face discrimination over pay. The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights acknowledge the importance of a gender lens in several places. The following Guidance (“Gender Dimensions of the UNGPs”) helps to further explain these principles from a gender perspective, and provides illustrative and practical actions.

Aside from ethical and legal reasons, we’ve seen that enabling women’s full potential also delivers returns. Diverse workforces have shown to perform better financially, have proven to be more effective, innovative and creative, and improve morale. In addition, addressing gender equality in the labour force enables you to attract and retain the best employees. By knowing and showing the impact of the risks to different gender, a company is able to mitigate and prevent those risks. This, in turn, greatly reduces the risk of reputational damage.

But how to start?

We recognise that gender equality is a complex issue, and can only be tackled by addressing its rootcauses. It can be a challenge to know where to start or what should be prioritised. Here are four initial key actions that your company can take to make a first step:

  1. Secure buy-in from top-level leadership to tackle gender inequality across the company and its supply chains, and sign up to the UN Women Empowerment Principles. This also helps to generate awareness around the topic, and stimulates conversations about the benefits and costs of gender (in)equality.
  2. Include provisions related to gender and women’s rights in your Code of Conduct. Your Code of Conduct demonstrates your company’s values and it enables important discussions with suppliers about these issues,
  3. Engage regularly with women’s rights organisations and trade unions. This will help you to get a better understanding of how gender discrimination manifests itself in both the company’s own operationsas well as in the countries where it operates.
  4. Obtain and publish gender-disaggregated data on the company’s operations and supply chains, including information on wages, and set targets. This information is essential for comprehending gender issues within the company, and draft a gender strategy to start addressing them.

At Enact, we can support your company in integrating a gender lens to your business operations, due diligence and supply chain policies.