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Sustainability, as the new language of business, is gendered

News /27 September 2021

Business leaders, corporate sustainability directors and officers, regulators, and women’s advocates compared notes on current practices on sustainability reporting, particularly disclosures of data on workplace gender equality (WGE) and diversity and inclusion (D&I), during the WEE (Women’s Economic Empowerment) Mean Business Roundtable Dialogue, an online forum hosted by the Philippine Business Coalition for Women Empowerment (PBCWE) on 28 July 2021 in Manila.

 

WEE (Women’s Economic Empowerment) Mean Business Roundtable Dialogue

 

This year’s roundtable discussion, with the theme “Sustainability as the New Language of Business,” tackled how companies set, measure and report their progress on Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) Standards in compliance with the Sustainability Reporting Guidelines for Publicly Listed Companies (PLCs) issued by the Philippine Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in 2019. The guidelines standardise sustainability reporting and PLCs are expected to “comply or explain” until 2023 when this becomes mandatory practice. Since the release of the guidelines, over 90% of PLCs have reportedly complied. Insights from the discussion are itemised below.

Companies are more likely to disclose some WGE data over others. There was strong agreement among the participants that PLCs will most likely report data on gender composition of the workforce, board composition and occupational health and safety. On the other hand, participants noted that companies are less likely to report on pay equity gaps and on sexual harassment and discrimination, as these could pose reputational risks. Disclosure hesitancy is also fuelled by the principle of confidentiality and fear of loss of competitive advantage.

Philippine companies appreciate tools and guides to ease reporting. Participants talked about using tools, frameworks and other resources, oftentimes managed by a dedicated sustainability team, to rigorously report on WGE. Data collection and analysis can be overwhelming, and they expressed appreciation for tools and support to enable them to enhance their gender reporting. Some participants indicated that board-level support of sustainability initiatives contributes to their success, while others discussed the role regulators have in providing guidelines and incentives.

Notably, SEC is currently engaged in a joint study with the Philippine Institute of Certified Public Accountants (PICPA) to glean insights from submitted sustainability reports which will inform any potential improvements to its sustainability reporting guidelines. For its part, PBCWE, together with Investing in Women, an initiative of the Australian Government, has been working to systematise gender reporting by popularising among its member firms the use of WGE diagnostic tools such as Gender Equality Assessment, Results and Strategies (GEARS). The coalition is in dialogue with SEC, the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), UN Women, and other stakeholders on the shared goal of improving gender reporting.

Publicly available data drives competitive tension and recognition. Public disclosures allow peer-to-peer benchmarking and gives rise to competitive tension and collaborative action. Transparency in reporting fosters an environment where companies learn from each other, adopt fit-for-purpose strategies, set milestones and collaborate to raise standards. At the event, it was noted that the ASEAN Corporate Governance Scorecard (ACGS) not only encouraged transparency but developed a focus on each topic and an appreciation of its value. Measuring gender equality and diversity and inclusion will put these metrics on a similar platform as return on investment, carbon emissions, and all the other sustainability metrics.

Greater awareness is needed to close gender data and action gaps. Participants reflected on the challenge for companies to translate WGE reporting into real outcomes for their employees and stakeholders. Reporting on gender data is just the initial step to understanding gender perspectives and transforming culture, work relationships and business outcomes. Beyond reporting, participants spoke of ensuring that the results of these metrics are made visible to stakeholders, among them tangible benefits in terms of profitability, talent retention and product and service innovation.

The WEE Mean Business Roundtable Dialogue was organised by PBCWE and Philippine Women’s Economic Network (PhilWEN), together with Investing in Women, and with the support of WeEmpowerAsia, a regional programme by the European Commission and UN Women Asia and the Pacific. Participants were PBCWE member firms, among them publicly listed companies such as Philippine National Bank and Manila Electric Company (Meralco), and representatives from the Securities and Exchange Commission, Philippine Stock Exchange, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, Asian Development Bank, Institute of Corporate Directors, Asian Institute of Management, Philippine Commission on Women, Indonesia Business Coalition for Women Empowerment, Male Champions of Change Philippines, and the Global Reporting Initiative.

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