* Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.Growing number of companies understand that fostering gender diversity in the workplace is not only the right thing to do; it makes business sense
IFC, a member of the World Bank Group and the largest development institution focused on the private sector, and others have demonstrated the business case for investing in women’s employment. A growing number of companies also understand that fostering gender diversity in the workplace is not only the right thing to do; it makes business sense. This understanding shows in the number of companies—more than 1,000—that have signed the UN Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs) CEO Statement of Support.
But where there is excitement about moving forward, there are doubts about how to do so. This is why, one year after capturing and communicating the business case in its Investing in Women’s Employment report (2013), IFC launched the SheWorks partnership. This World Bank Group/Clinton Global InitiativeCommitment to Action to boost employment opportunities for more than 360,000 women began with the aim of sharing knowledge and best practices and moving from the question of “why” companies should invest in women to “how” they can put the business case into action.
From why to how
Ten leading private-sector companies joined SheWorks, pledging to implement measures to build a gender-balanced workforce. Members initially made 32 commitments to address gaps between women and men in recruitment, retention, promotion, and the supply chain through such measures as flexible schedules and stronger anti-sexual-harassment mechanisms. The EDGE Certified Foundation, the International Labour Organization, and the UN Global Compact joined SheWorks as strategic partners to foster learning and implement effective diversity practices. Together, we set a performance metric to enhance employment opportunities for 300,000 women by 2016.
How did we do?
September 2015 marked the first anniversary of SheWorks. Our progress reportshows an increase in the number of companies, countries, and lives affected. Membership now includes 13 companies headquartered in nine countries (operating in many more) and representing almost 20 sectors—including traditionally male-dominated industries, such as construction, petrochemicals, energy, and technology.
Almost half of SheWorks members report an increase in the hiring of women since joining the initiative. What’s more, participating firms are improving the lives of more than 360,000 women through a new total of 41 commitments to advance women’s employment. Members have achieved or implemented almost 90% of these commitments. Within a mere 12 months, as a result of improving their leadership-development programs, four members show an increase in women’s promotions to leadership positions. One of these firms reports an increase in the proportion of women managers from 15 to 21 percent.
Lessons and knowledge from SheWorks are also helping IFC clients globally. IFC’s Gender Secretariat is replicating some of the initiatives globally, including in challenging environments. For example, in Papua New Guinea, we are working with client companies to assess and address gender gaps and also leading a business coalition to address gender issues in the workplace. Moreover, with the establishment of the UN WEPs Leadership Group’s first community of practice, SheWorks members share and build knowledge with more than 1,000 UN WEPs signatories. We are now gearing up for the launch of the 2016 SheWorks Knowledge Report, which will consolidate best practices that other companies, industries, and regions can easily replicate.
We have proven that the benefits of investing in women can far outweigh the costs. At IFC, we have seen the evidence that such investment can also be a game-changer in tackling poverty and boosting shared prosperity—our twin corporate goals. With efforts such as SheWorks, we are stepping up our commitment to gender equality by contributing knowledge and resources to make it happen. Thanks to the members, partners, and collaborators in this initiative for helping us realize our first set of goals, thereby deepening our business and development impact. As World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim said, “Companies that learn to effectively develop and retain women employees will gain a huge competitive advantage.”
Rudaba Nasir, @RudabaNasir, works with IFC’s Gender Secretariat and focuses on women’s employment issues, such as childcare and gender diversity in business leadership. She also facilitates the World Bank Group’s SheWorks global private-sector partnership to advance women’s employment opportunities. Before joining IFC, she worked with the UN and USAID on gender assessments, women’s entrepreneurship and capacity-strengthening initiatives, project management, and impact evaluations in her native Pakistan and across South Asia, Latin America, and Africa. Rudaba has an M.A. in International Development from Ohio University and a BSc. Honors in Economics from Lahore University of Management Sciences.