Tackling gender inequality in business on International Women's Day
Liz Kirk Global Adviser, Private Sector
6th Mar 2012
It's not always easy for businesses to figure out how to tackle gender inequality, but Oxfam's new paper, launching as an eBook in time for International Women's Day, will help.
A few months ago, on the happy concurrence of World Food Day and International Rural Women's Day, I blogged here on the important role women play in our food production and rural development, and I mentioned that we were working on a new publication: Gender Inequality: it's your Business. With consistent regard for important dates in the calendar, we are now publishing
this new Briefing for Business in time for International Women's Day.
In it, we ask that business ignores the popular myths about gender inequality being a social and cultural phenomenon for governments to deal with, and instead recognise companies' responsibilities to uphold and promote gender equality. Of course, we recognise that many companies already do much to protect human rights in their operations and value chains, but there is clearly a lot more that they can and must do to further gender equality. As well as the compelling ethical case for protecting and supporting women's rights, there are significant practical benefits for
companies to be gained from addressing gender equality, including improved productivity, reduced staff turnover and access to a wider pool of talented staff at all levels of the organisation.
So we have set out some practical suggestions that can be followed by perplexed business leaders:
- 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
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.
On International Women's Day there is no better time to address gender inequalities - your business will benefit as a result.
Download the report
Gender Inequality: it's your Business is available to download from this website as a PDF and an eBook (look for the ePUB icon when downloading). It will shortly also be available from Amazon and the iBookstore.