Women are the ultimate drivers of their own empowerment, but there are many things the private sector can do to facilitate their progress.
In The Business of Empowering Women, McKinsey & Company researchers examine what companies can do to contribute to women’s empowerment at every stage of a woman’s life, “from infancy through adolescence, income readiness, employment, entrepreneurship, and ultimately to financial security and leadership.” They make many suggestions, including enabling access to safe on-site childcare for employees, supporting scholarships for girls, and providing vocational and business-skills training.
But is there evidence that these initiatives help businesses themselves?
Indeed, helping women can help a company’s own bottom line. For example, the HERproject, led by Business for Social Responsibility (BSR), shows how women’s interests and company interests can overlap. In a study conducted by USAID and its partner Meridian Group International in four factories in Egypt and Pakistan, research found that the HERproject (HER stands for Health Enables Returns), a factory-based health initiative, has the potential to deliver $4 USD for every $1 invested in the project.
Using a peer-to-peer model to educate female factory workers on basic health issues, the program benefits businesses by leading to lower rates of worker absenteeism, early leave requests, and staff attrition; fewer mistakes in manufactured garments; improved recruitment; and an improved reputation for the factories among international buyers. According to BSR:
One factory manager in Karachi, Pakistan, told researchers that women now have access to a qualified health instructor. ‘They are able to discuss their health issues more openly, which is not very easy in our culture, where many things are considered taboo,’ he said. This has made his factory a desirable place to work. ‘Our labor pool has increased tremendously,’ he added.
The Women’s Empowerment Principles: Equality Means Business, launched in 2009, offers businesses guidance on how to empower women in the workplace, marketplace, and community. The Principles also emphasize the business case for private sector action to promote gender equality, using real business practices and input gathered from around the world. They are not intended to be prescriptive, but rather their goal is to identify best practices in good corporate citizenship for women’s equality.
On March 6th, executives from companies who have signed the CEO Statement of support for the Women’s Empowerment Principles will gather at the UN to discuss the progress of their initiatives. Then, on March 8th, with support from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Business and Civic Leadership Center (BCLC) and the United Nations Office for Partnerships, attendees of “The Role of Business in Empowering Women” will hear from representatives from The Coca-Cola Company, Intel Corporation, FedEx, Demalogica, the Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards, Citi Foundation, UN Women, The World Bank, among others, about:
- Financial inclusion for women
- Equipping women with skills needed to succeed as entrepreneurs and facilitating entrepreneurial opportunities
- Using supply chains as opportunities to provide pathways for women to participate in commerce while mitigating negative impacts on women and their communities
- Identifying areas where business can further equip women for success particularly in the above listed areas
- Understanding the barriers to progress in these areas of development and discuss potential mitigation strategies, particularly elaborating on areas where collaboration between sectors could aid those mitigation strategies
I will be attending and live-tweeting using the event’s hashtag #CSRwomen to see what’s next for company involvement in bettering women’s futures. I’ll also be paying close attention to how private sector initiatives can improve women’s political and economic participation, which will ultimately enable women to take control of the health, education, and other policies that affect their well-being.
Cross-sector collaboration can make a real difference for women. If everyone, including the private sector, can keep engaging women, asking questions, investing resources, and digging deeper, at the end of our work together women will truly be in control of their own empowerment.