PBCWE, UN Women Policy Forum tackles improvements to gender reportingNews Stories /01 April 2022
Regulators and policymakers, academics, business networks, and sustainability advocates gathered on 4 March 2022 to discuss gender reporting in corporate sustainability reports at the Policy Forum titled “Accelerating the Sustainability Momentum and Workplace Gender Equality Advantage.” Adopting the International Women’s Day 2022 theme “Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow,” the event underscored the business case for gender equality, while reinforcing efforts to use sustainability reporting—particularly on material gender topics—to leverage the competitive advantages of workplace gender equality (WGE) to improve company performance and economic growth.
The Philippine Business Coalition for Women Empowerment (PBCWE) – which celebrated its fifth anniversary this women’s month – hosted the event together with the Philippine Women’s Economic Network (PhilWEN) and UN Women’s WeEmpowerAsia Programme, with the support of Investing in Women, an initiative of the Australian Government. Richard Sisson, Deputy Head of Mission at the Australian Embassy in the Philippines, was present to lend his support, alongside H.E. Luc Véron, Ambassador of the European Union (EU) Delegation to the Philippines. In their messages, both noted the negative impacts of the pandemic on women’s participation in the workforce and the critical role of gender equality in sustainable and inclusive economic recovery.
Two reports with a common goal
Two reports were launched at the forum; both advocated for greater transparency through a standardisation of gender reporting and a transition to mandatory reporting from the comply-or-explain practice implemented by the Philippine Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for the past three years, as programmed in the SEC Memorandum Circular No. 4 series of 2019 or Sustainability Reporting Guidelines for Publicly-Listed Companies. Mandatory reporting, proponents said, will result in more standardised and therefore comparable data for benchmarking and comprehensive analysis and provide companies with the solid foundation needed to fine-tune their policies, plans and actions to improve their impacts.
- UN Women’s Philippines Policy Brief: “Building Pathways to Gender Equality and Sustainability through the Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs),” provides policy and action recommendations on topics such as women in leadership, equal pay, safe and inclusive workplaces, and equitable procurement. This was presented by Sigrid Sibug, Policy and Advocacy Specialist of UN Women’s WeEmpowerAsia Programme.
- PBCWE’s “Workplace Gender Equality and Sustainability Reporting: An Initial Analysis of the Top 30 Philippine Publicly-Listed Companies,” maps out the gender disclosures of the top 30 publicly-listed companies (PLCs) in the Philippines in 2020 and proposes enhanced reporting on indicators including gender composition at all job levels, safe and respectful workplaces, workplace flexibility (including flexible work and parental leave), employee training and development and gender pay equity. This was presented by Ma. Aurora “Boots” Geotina-Garcia, Co-Chairperson of PBCWE.
Beyond reporting, UN Women also advocated for developing a national action plan on business and human rights that includes actions promoting gender equality. PBCWE proposed establishing a WGE Index in the local stock market.
The presentation of the reports was followed by a lively panel discussion, moderated by Ana Margarita ’Ginggay’ Hontiveros-Malvar, vice-president for reputation management of Aboitiz Equity Ventures, Inc. The panel of experts invited to comment included: Commissioner Kelvin Lester Lee of the SEC; Jose Solomon Cortez, associate director of the Ramon V. del Rosario Center for Social Responsibility of the Asian Institute of Management; Atty. Roel Refran, chief operating officer of the Philippine Stock Exchange; and Dr. Allinnettes Adigue, head of the ASEAN Regional Hub of the international independent standards organisation Global Reporting Initiative.
Experts weigh in: barriers and challenges
Ms. Sibug’s presentation noted several gaps in the sustainability landscape, including the lack of institutional capacity of government agencies in charge of monitoring the private sector—a significant barrier to the collection, analysis and reporting on gender—as well as the SEC having to contend with PLCs’ learning curve in completing documentation.
Commissioner Lee maintained that the SEC intends to follow through with mandatory sustainability reporting—not just for PLCs, but also for non-listed companies—but the timeline may be pushed back from 2023. He cautioned against “over-regulation” and so any enhancements to current sustainability reporting guidelines will be taken into further consideration under an ongoing study being conducted by the SEC together with the Philippine Institute of Certified Public Accountants (PICPA). He also indicated that the SEC is looking into recognising companies that practice gender inclusion by having balanced and diverse boards.
The lack of standardised, verifiable data that can be integrated into the current PSE disclosure system remains a hurdle to overcome, even as the financial markets move towards developing a common framework for sustainable finance. “I’m working with our ASEAN peers–Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia–as well as Hong Kong, as we look at coming up with core metrics,“ said Atty. Refran.
Drivers of change
Speakers and panellists acknowledged that the policy recommendations and proposed enhancements to reporting guidelines have merit, given the impetus:
- Gender inequality is one of the biggest stumbling blocks to progress. Adigue spoke of the relevance of WGE for all companies that care about their main resource – human beings – and the need to embed sustainability in organisational cultures for relevant and meaningful reporting. Reflecting on urgency, and drawing parallels with other ESG (environment, social, governance) focus areas, she said: “We have to give companies time to catch up [to reporting standards], but again, don’t take your time because we’re now in a climate emergency.”
- Gender gaps have worsened for Filipinas. The pandemic has exacerbated pre-existing inequalities and current reporting is not able to track whether a company is improving or backsliding, for example, in terms of pay equity. Mr. Cortez referred to a study of almost 7,000 skilled respondents that indicated an average pay gap of 11% for female employees compared with male employees, which tends to increase among higher-income earners. “Female employees with undergraduate and postgraduate degrees earn 89% and 78% of the salary paid to their male counterparts, respectively,” he said.
- WGE accelerates post-pandemic economic recovery. “Gender equality supports a more inclusive and sustainable economic recovery… By focusing on increasing the number of women’s participation in the labour force and their type of work, the Philippines could add 7% above its business-as-usual GDP (gross domestic product) by 2025,” said Ms. Sibug.
The public web forum attracted over 200 participants who were asked to contribute a personal or institutional action to a “commitment board” towards sustainable WGE progress.