Workplace Gender Equality (WGE) has proven business outcomes, with companies that have gender-equal policies and practices exhibiting greater innovation and productivity, increased profitability and improved resilience. By highlighting the connection between gender equality and outcomes, public reporting on WGE practices and key gender equality metrics has the potential to drive meaningful action. It can also track progress and positively reinforce the implementation of commitments to advance WGE.
At the 2021 UN Responsible Business and Human Rights (RBHR) Forum on 2 June 2021, the session What gets measured gets managed: A discussion on transparency to advance women’s economic empowerment in business, underscored the need for collective action to build an environment of transparency and accountability on WGE.
Common goal, common framework
Katja Freiwald, Regional Program Manager of WeEmpowerAsia at the UN Women Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, spoke of how the WEPs Transparency & Accountability Framework could be a useful reporting tool for all sectors. This framework is aligned with existing global reporting initiatives including the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), GRI Standards, Economic Dividends for Gender Equality (EDGE), the Bloomberg Gender-Equality Index, and the World Benchmarking Alliance Gender Benchmark, among others.
Companies are encouraged to report on the following indicators: the percentage of women in leadership, equal pay, equal opportunities in the workplace and the availability of a safe and inclusive workplace.
Reporting on gender equality identifies good practices, creates benchmarks for progress and sets new standards for transparency around gender issues. It also encourages companies to be more gender-inclusive and enables them to see how they compare with other companies.
Transparency, in turn, can lead to better results. Joni Simpson, Senior Specialist on Gender Equality and Non-discrimination at the International Labour Organization (ILO), noted that employer surveys show majority of enterprises who track gender equality reported a profit increase of 10-15% due to implemented gender equality initiatives; moreover, companies that share their pay scales transparently equip women with the knowledge to negotiate a fair and equal wage, thus contributing to achieving pay equity.
On the other hand, a lack of transparency and accountability makes it difficult for stakeholders to assess progress on gender equality in the workplace, and whether gender gaps within have been closed.
In some areas, gender reporting is a matter of compliance to government regulation and/or securities and trade policies. The Securities Commission in Malaysia, for example, has established a voluntary best practice where all company boards should comprise at least 30% women directors.
Similarly, the European Union (EU) has adopted new policies and directives to address the issue of gender equality more broadly. For the EU, “putting financing where it matters” means supporting projects on responsible business and promoting empowerment of women in the ASEAN region.
Accountability and transformative change
With gender reporting in place, companies are compelled to track their data and assess their progress. If a report shows that fewer women are promoted or given opportunities in the workplace, employees are inclined to pose an inquiry on why women are less favoured. The availability of gender reporting data challenges companies to take gender gaps into consideration when making further decisions and implement action plans that deliver change.
“Without data—it’s harder for companies to implement change,” said Kathy Mulville, Business Partnerships Director at Investing in Women (IW). When companies routinely report data on gender equality, it will be easier to demonstrate the business benefits that come with greater diversity in the workplace.
The focus for IW has been to work together with the four business coalitions (BCs) in South East Asia—the Business Coalition for Gender Equality (Myanmar); Indonesia Business Coalition for Women Empowerment; Philippine Business Coalition for Women Empowerment; and Vietnam Business Coalition for Women’s Empowerment—to progress WGE within companies. The BCs measure company progress using WGE assessment and diagnostic tools, such as EDGE and the GEARS (Gender Equality Assessment, Results and Strategies) tool developed by IW.
“A majority of the companies with whom we have worked and who have gathered data to assess where they are in terms of WGE progress have all reported [that] they’ve made progress in at least one area of WGE,” said Mulville.
IW is also working with regulators and policymakers in Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam to improve and expand their data collection on WGE within existing frameworks.
What gets measured, gets managed was co-organised by UN Women’s WEEmpowerAsia programme and ILO’s Responsible Supply Chains in Asia programme. The study Ecosystem Landscaping to advance the Accountability to implement the Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs) in ASEAN, which was launched during the event,further discusses the state of play and how countries and companies can advance in the WEPs areas.