Investments in this strategy aim to increase gender equality in the workplace through policies, practices and reporting, resulting in improved working conditions and likely greater workforce participation. The sections below include an overview of the strategy for achieving desired goals, supporting evidence, core metrics that help measure performance toward goals, and a curated list of resources to support collecting, reporting on, and using data for decision-making.
Every organization worldwide, regardless of geography, industry, or its employees’ demographic characteristics, builds a workplace environment that positively or negatively influences its staff’s health, well-being, safety, opportunity, and success. The underlying gender patterns, norms, roles, and expectations in any workplace materially influence men, women, and gender and sexual minorities (GSM) differently.
Investments in this strategy aim to increase gender equality in the workplace through policies, practices, and reporting that result in:
Men globally have disproportionately more work-related accidents and fatal injuries, often due to the socially influenced tendency of men to work in physically demanding posts, take risks, and avoid care for physical injuries (1). Meanwhile, disproportionately more women acquire chronic injuries, illnesses, stress, and psychological burdens, often due to excessive workplace demands on women-dominated functions and comparatively lower influence of female employees in resource allocation (1). Gender-based violence, sexual harassment, coercion, and even human trafficking in the workplace represent ubiquitous and often unaddressed forms of oppression that disproportionately affect women and GSM, partially because they have less autonomy on average in the global workplace and occupy more vulnerable positions in business structures and society at large (2).
While individual businesses and regional and state-level governments are increasingly focusing on implementing best practices around gender-equitable workplace conditions, the number of workplaces worldwide leaving workplace inequities unaddressed is severely high. To illustrate, consider the following:
A culture of inclusion and proper and equal compensation for all employees regardless of gender or sexual orientation are key aspects of a gender-equitable workplace, as is representation of gender-diverse staff in all positions, including management, leadership, and governance roles. Policies, measurement systems, and the active promotion of women and GSM to more senior roles with higher incomes can encourage these aspects (see: Gender Equitable Pay Strategy and Gender Equitable Governance, Leadership, and Ownership Strategy). Businesses that do not address gender inequities can face financial liabilities and losses in terms of employee turnover, legal action related to sexual harassment or pay inequities, higher use of sick leave, greater absenteeism, and a less productive work environment (6).
This strategy involves investing in companies that have promoted, through their policies, practices, and reporting, workplace environments that acknowledge, identify, and actively work to resolve gender inequities. While women are the main target of this strategy—as with all gender-lens investing strategies—investors should also take measures to consider GSM in their application of a strategy to improve the equity of workplace conditions. Furthermore, investors should pay attention to diversity more broadly, including the intersectionality of discrimination and disadvantage by race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and disability. This strategy benefits individuals including:
Women: Gender inequities in the workplace primarily keep women from full participation, hold back their success compared to men, and expose them to harmful or violent experiences (generally perpetrated by fellow staff or supervisors). Resolving the breadth of gender inequities would materially improve the well-being of women who are already in the workforce and would likely partially decrease the gender imbalance in workforce participation.
Men: Gender-equitable workplaces are safer, more respectful, and more positive environments for all employees. Improved prevention and identification of sexual harassment better protects male victims in the workplace. Broad availability of paternity leave increases male workers’ participation in the care of new children, benefiting both the men themselves and their families as a whole.
Gender and Sexual Minorities (LGBTIQ Groups): Worldwide, GSM experience discrimination that is linked to higher rates of poverty, food insecurity, and unemployment, as documented in multiple countries (9). Both physical violence targeting these groups and the effects of stigma on mental health negatively impact individuals’ health and productivity.
Businesses: Individuals facing discrimination perform differently at work, and the resulting absenteeism, decreased productivity, and higher turnover rates decrease profits for businesses. Investments in gender-equitable workplaces can reduce these inequalities and provide safe, inclusive environments for these groups.
Children and Families: Better work–life balance and improved working conditions for new parents have a direct, positive impact on their children and families. Improved health, decreased incidence of sexual violence (which significantly contributes to mental illness), and improved prevention of gendered occupational safety risks can also benefit employees’ family lives.
Contextualized to whichever gender inequities are commonly present in a specific geography, this strategy may be applied anywhere. Workplace gender inequities vary by kind and degree with local sociocultural patterns, gender norms, legislation, and policy.
Applying this strategy will yield a portfolio of investees with increasingly equitable workplace conditions by gender. Broad, aggregate application of this strategy, signaling the importance of implementing gender-equitable workplace conditions to an industry or within a geography, would greatly contribute to gender equality by encouraging enterprises to actively work to address gender inequities in their places of business.
Inequality in the workplace disproportionately affects women and GSM. Much research has investigated the impact of inequitable working conditions on women’s economic participation. While women comprise approximately half of the global labor force, they are more likely than men to have informal employment, often unprotected by labor laws. The International Labour Organization estimates that 42.5% of the world’s working women are in some form of vulnerable employment (10). Reducing workplace inequities would likely both benefit women already engaged in formal employment and increase all women’s access to formal employment by lowering structural barriers.
A McKinsey study suggested that enabling women and men to play the same roles in labor markets worldwide would increase annual gross world product by USD 28 trillion (26%) by 2025 (11), and India alone—where gender equality would have a greater estimated economic impact than in any other country—would add USD 700 billion to its GDP by 2025 (12). Along similar lines, a World Bank study found that, in India, discrimination against LGBTIQ individuals could be costing the country’s economy up to USD 32 billion per year in lost economic output (13). Unleashing these economic benefits alone could greatly reduce poverty, while more comprehensive gender equity in the workplace could greatly improve the physical and mental health of employees and their families.
External Risk: Although investments in this strategy can help reduce gender biases in society over time, target beneficiaries will still be impacted by gender biases that are ingrained in law and/or customary practices and which may keep women and GSM from fully and equitably participating in the workforce, even if an organization is actively promoting gender equality. To help mitigate this risk, organizations can advocate for more gender equitable laws through their engagements with governments and by joining collaborative efforts such as Business Action for Women and HERproject. Safety outside the workplace may also impact the ability to fully participate in jobs that are available, in particular in areas affected by conflict or high rates of crime. In this case, organizations can make provisions to ensure access to safe transportation to and from the workplace.
Execution Risk: There is no one-size-fits-all solution to creating safe and equitable workplaces for everyone. Organizations that fail to appropriately take into account the specific context of their business and needs of their workforce may find their workplace equity policies fail to take hold and/or result in backlash.
Failure to appropriately address these risks can limit potential impact organizations are intending to have and, in some cases, create unintended negative consequences for target beneficiaries and others.
MAS Holdings is a Sri Lanka–based apparel firm with a majority female workforce that is known for its exemplary working conditions and emphasis on women’s equality and empowerment. The MAS Women Go Beyond program offers initiatives like training to prevent gender-based violence and sexual harassment, maternal health clinics, and programs to help employees achieve work–life balance (14). This focus has made MAS Holdings a leading supplier for global apparel brands, increasing its ability to retain staff and increasing the proportion of women in the internal talent pool from which managers can be promoted (15).
NCS Holdings Ltd., a catering and camp-management company in Papua New Guinea that is fully owned by Papua New Guinean landowners, employs 680 women in its workforce of 1,300. With support from the International Finance Corporation, NCS has become the first organization based in the Pacific Islands to gain certification by EDGE (Economic Dividends for Gender Equality). Besides actively employing and promoting women in its workforce, the company works systematically to build a culture that values gender equality, implementing policies on sexual harassment in the workplace, leadership development, and family and sexual violence in the workplace. The company has seen reduced absenteeism, improved productivity, and greater staff loyalty (16).
Boston Consulting Group, where 27% of consulting staff worldwide are women, is consistently ranked by Fortune 100 as one of the best companies for women to work (17). Among its many policies and procedures designed to promote gender equality in the workplace, the company implemented flex-time—flexible and part-time working models—to all employees worldwide who have completed one year with the firm. The initiative, fully customizable to individual requirements, allows employees to choose to work at 60% to 80% capacity without affecting their accrual of credit or tenure. This policy is supported by HR and by staffing and career-development processes to avoid bias against flex-time in opportunities, evaluation, and promotion.
The Swedish Work Environment Authority, Gender Equality in the Work Environment. https://www.av.se/en/work-environment-work-and-inspections/work-with-the-work-environment/gender-equality-in-the-work-environment/.
Adrienne Cruz and Sabine Klinger, Gender-based violence in the world of work: Overview and selected annotated bibliography, Working Paper 3, International Labour Office, 2011. https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/---dgreports/---gender/documents/publication/wcms_155763.pdf
International Labour Organization, Maternity and Paternity at Work: Law and Practice Across the World, International Labour Office – Geneva: ILO, 2014.https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/@dgreports/@dcomm/@publ/documents/publication/wcms_242615.pdf
Amy Raub et al., Paid Parental Leave: A Detailed Look at Approaches Across OECD Countries (Los Angeles: WORLD Policy Analysis Center, 2018), ”$”:https://www.worldpolicycenter.org/sites/default/files/WORLD%20Report%20-%20Parental%20Leave%20OECD%20Country%20Approaches_0.pdf.
Sexual Harassment in the Workplace in the European Union, European Commission Directorate-General for Employment, Industrial Relations and Social Affairs Unit V/D.5, 1998 http://www.un.org/womenwatch/osagi/pdf/shworkpl.pdf
National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), “Workplace Justice: Sexual Harassment in the Workplace,” fact sheet (Washington, DC: NWLC, 2016), ”$”:https://nwlc-ciw49tixgw5lbab.stackpathdns.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/Sexual-Harassment-Fact-Sheet.pdf.
Matthew Morton, Jeni Klugman, Lucia Hanmer, and Dorothe Singer, Gender at Work: A Companion to the World Development Report on Jobs (Washington, DC: World Bank, 2013), http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/884131468332686103/pdf/892730WP0Box3800report0Feb-02002014.pdf.
Jenny Marlar and Elizabeth Mendes, “Globally, Men Twice as Likely as Women to Have a Good Job,” Gallup, September 27, 2013 https://news.gallup.com/poll/164666/globally-men-twice-likely-women-good-job.aspx
Charles Radcliffe, “The Real Cost of LGBT Discrimination,” World Economic Forum, January 5, 2016 https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/01/the-real-cost-of-lgbt-discrimination/
Vulnerable employment, female (% of female employment) (modeled ILO estimate), World Bank, https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SL.EMP.VULN.FE.ZS?view=chart
Jonathan Woetzel, Anu Madgavkar, Kweilin Ellingrud, Eric Labaye, Sandrine Devillard, Eric Kutcher, James Manyika, Richard Dobbs, and Mekala Krishnan, The Power of Parity: How Advancing Women’s Equality Can Add $12 Trillion to Global Growth (McKinsey Global Institute, September 2015), ”$”:https://www.mckinsey.com/~/media/McKinsey/Featured%20Insights/Employment%20and%20Growth/How%20advancing%20womens%20equality%20can%20add%2012%20trillion%20to%20global%20growth/MGI%20Power%20of%20parity_Full%20report_September%202015.ashx.
Jonathan Woetzel, Anu Madgavkar, Rajat Gupta, James Manyika, Kweilin Ellingrud, Shishir Gupta, and Mekala Krishnan, The Power of Parity: Advancing Women’s Equality in India (McKinsey Global Institute, November 2015), https://www.mckinsey.com/~/media/McKinsey/Featured%20Insights/Employment%20and%20Growth/The%20power%20of%20parity%20Advancing%20womens%20equality%20in%20India/MGI%20India%20parity_Full%20report_November%202015.ashx.
M.V. Lee Badgett, “The Economic Cost of Stigma and the Exclusion of LGBT People: A Case Study of India,” Washington, DC : World Bank Group, 2016. http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/527261468035379692/The-economic-cost-of-stigma-and-the-exclusion-of-LGBT-people-a-case-study-of-India
“MAS Holdings,” Empower Women, https://www.empowerwomen.org/en/community/organizations/mas-holdings.
Timothy Hindle, Case Study: MAS Holdings—An Excerpt from Market Movers: Lessons from a Frontier of Innovation (Washington, DC: International Finance Corporation and SustainAbility, 2007), ”$”:https://www.ifc.org/wps/wcm/connect/95ae1a004886597db95efb6a6515bb18/MarketMovers_CS_MAS.pdf?MOD=AJPERES.
International Finance Corporation, “First Pacific Island Nation organization to become EDGE Certified—NCS in Papa New Guinea” (news release), July 9, 2018, http://edge-cert.org/first-pacific-island-nation-become-edge-certified-ncs-papa-new-guinea/.
Priyanka Aggarwal, Pallavi Malani, Mani Singhal, Sneha Mundra and Priyanka Krishnan, “From Intention to Impact: Bridging the Diversity Gap in the Workplace,” The Boston Consulting Group, November 2017. https://media-publications.bcg.com/BCG-Bridging-diversity-gap-workplace-Nov2017.pdf
This mapped evidence shows what outcomes and impacts this strategy can have, based on academic and field research.
Each resource is assigned a rating of rigor according to the NESTA Standards of Evidence.
Indicates whether the organization has specific, written anti-discrimination policy in place for its employees and a system to monitor compliance of this policy.
Organizations should footnote details about the policy, including the types of discrimination protected against and the systems in place for ensuring compliance. See usage guidance for further information.
Anti-discrimination policies, oftentimes called non-discrimination or equal employment opportunity policies, create codes to prohibit or penalize discrimination on the basis of age, color, disability, gender expression, gender identity, HIV status, marital status, national, social & ethnic origin, and other groups described in IRIS usage guidance for metric OI9331 . A robust policy makes it clear that an organization promotes diversity, dignity, and respect in the workplace, fostering an inclusive workplace by establishing both the ethical and legal grounds for how employees should expect to be treated in the workplace. The policy should outline procedures for reporting and investigating complaints, so that employees have a clear understanding of the mechanisms for redress when incidents do occur.Organizations can refer to the Human Rights Campaign's Corporate Equality Index and Same Equal Employment Opportunity Policies for further detail.
Indicates whether the organization has a highly visible and actionable written policy setting forth clear and comprehensive definitions of sexual harassment and gender-based violence -- including how to handle and investigate each accusation, how to manage the accuser and the accused following a report, and which established protections can protect accusers from reprisals -- as well as a system to monitor compliance with this policy.
Organizations should footnote the details about its sexual harassment policy, and how it is being implemented.
The policy should be in line with internationally-recognized standards. A sexual harrassment and gender-based violence policy is essential to promote diversity, dignity, and respect for all employees. This type of policy establishes these offenses as unacceptable and punishable offenses, and should apply to both employees and employers, acknowledging power differentials by position and gender. Clearly outlining procedures for reporting and investigating complaints gives employees confidence that cases will be appropriately and adequately handled in the event of any incidents. Hostile work environments can seriously harm an organization’s ability to attract and retain talent, and can present reputational and brand risks. Workplaces Respond to Domestic and Sexual Violence provides guidance on how to assess sexual harassment policies based on these expectations, including a model workplace policy.
Percentage of all organizational employees who have participated in annual sexual-harassment prevention training conducted by professionals and using data-backed approaches.
[(Number of employees participating in annual sexual-harassment prevention training) / (Total number of employees) x 100]
Organizations should footnote the types of training provided and duration of training(s), with particular emphasis on those that lead to recognized certifications. All employees, including part-time, full-time, temporary, and permanent staff, as well as contractors, should be included in the calculations for this metric.
See resources below, in particular Workplaces Respond to Domestic and Sexual Violence, for guidance on how to assess sexual harassment training.
Percentage of all organizational employees who have participated in annual gender equality in the workplace training conducted by professionals and using data-backed approaches.
[(Number of employees participated in annual gender equality in the workplace training) / (Total number of employees) x 100]
Footnote all assumptions made in determining this metric, including types of training offered and whether these are tailored to particular staff (i.e., training offered during onboarding versus integrated into leadership and managerial training). All employees, including part-time, full-time, temporary, and permanent staff, should be included in the calculations for this metric.
Because gender norms, roles, and responsibilities differ by culture, training is important to create a common understanding among employees that co-workers should be treated equally regardless of gender. Gender equality trainings help employees to identify inherent biases which may influence how different genders are treated in the workplace, how work is allocated, and how genders are perceived or spoken of, ultimately evolving into a basic understanding of employees’ different needs (and leading to equitable practices).For guidance on assessing an organization's gender equality in the workplace training based on these expectations, see the European Institute for Gender Equality's Gender Equality Training and HRC's Corporate Equality Index.
Indicates whether the organization has analyzed the occupational safety hazards present in the workplace and the ways that different employees are exposed to and affected by these hazards in relation to their biological and psycho-social realities.
Organizations should footnote details around the analysis conducted, including the type and methods of analysis conducted and processes to ensure that learnings influence future policy and practices.
A gender-aware occupational safety analysis acknowledges the different workloads and hazards facing employees of different genders. By reducing risk and protecting employees, such an analysis aims to ensure that workplaces are safe and healthy for everyone. For guidance on the types of occupational safety analyses that may be informed by and address gendered differences, see Building Healthy and Equitable Workplaces for Men and Women: A Resource for Employers and Worker Representatives, produced by the World Health Organization.
Indicates whether, where health benefits are not provided by the government, the organization offers gender-equitable and inclusive health insurance to all employees.
Organizations should footnote eligibility requirements for different types of benefits and the number of employees who enroll in each benefit offering. See usage guidance for further information.
This metric is only relevant to companies operating in the U.S. and other markets where employers are responsible for providing their employees with health insurance coverage. Gender-equitable health insurance ensures that all employees, regardless of gender or sex, are adequately covered for their health needs and can access appropriate and affordable healthcare (including adequate sexual and reproductive healthcare). This leads to better retention of female staff and a reduction in employee absenteeism due to health-related circumstances.All employees, including part-time, full-time, temporary, and permanent staff should be included in the calculations for this metric. Investors should note whether all healthcare coverage provided to employees is guaranteed for gender and sexually diverse groups and whether the coverage includes any specific medical services or procedures related to gender and sexual diversity (e.g., sex reassignment, hormone replacement therapy). For additional guidance on assessing an organization's health insurance for gender equity based on these expectations, see resources below including: Brigham and Women's Hospital, Kaiser Family Foundation, and IFC. Investors may also seek guidance from the Human Rights Campaign's Corporate Equality Index on transgender-inclusive health insurance.
Describes the benefits that are provided to full-time employees of the organization during the reporting period, in this case, whether the organization has gender equitable parental leave policies that support the fair and equitable division of care needed for a new child.
Flexible parental leave creates a more equitable workplace by assisting with the division of labor among couples and minimizing the penalty for motherhood in the workplace. Flexible parental leave can increase the hiring of women and GSM, improve the retention of female staff, and increase gender equality in middle management, where women historically leave the workforce due to caregiving responsibilities.For additional guidance on assessing an organization's parental leave policies from the perspective of gender equity, see B the Change and Emory International Law Review.
Indicates whether the organization offers flexible work arrangements to its full-time, part-time, or temporary employees.
Organizations should footnote details of the flexible arrangements offered and their uptake by employees.
Examples of flexible work arrangements include choosing work shift; choosing flexible working hours (allowing the freedom to vary start and stop times); working from remote locations (telecommuting); job-sharing; and other (report additional details).
Describes the benefits that are provided to full-time employees of the organization during the reporting period, including whether an organization facilitates employee access to child care.
Access to childcare can be through voucher programs for child care services, on-site services, or other support mechanisms. This benefit should be made available to all parents regardless of gender or sexual orientation. For guidance on different ways organizations can facilitate employee access to child care, investors may consult the ILO Workplace Solutions for Child Care.
Indicates whether the organization has developed a plan to overcome occupational safety inequities as identified in the occupational safety analysis.
Footnote all assumptions made in determining this metric.
For guidance on the types of occupational safety analyses that may be informed by and address gendered differences, see Building Healthy and Equitable Workplaces for Men and Women: A Resource for Employers and Worker Representatives, produced by the World Health Organization.
Assesses whether the organization tracks gender-disaggregated occurrences of workplace-related injuries and illnesses.
Footnote all assumptions made in determining this metric. All employees, including part-time, full-time, temporary, and permanent staff, should be included in the calculations for this metric.
For guidance on workplace injuries and illnesses and why it is critical to track them by gender, see the Swedish Work Environment Authority's Gender Equality in the Work Environment.
Indicates whether the organization has established a codified grievance mechanism to report acts of sexual harassment or gender-based violence that ensures accusers’ anonymity and defines the responsibilities of individuals within the organization to address the accusation.
Footnote all assumptions made in determining this metric.
For guidance on how to assess sexual harassment policies and their grievance and reporting systems based on these expectations, see guidance provided by Workplaces Respond to Domestic and Sexual Violence), including a model workplace policy.
Indicates whether the organization offers a sick leave and family care policy that encourages all employees to take necessary leave to care for themselves, sick children, elderly family members, and other dependents.
Footnote all assumptions made in determining this metric.
As women most often bear the burden of caring for children, spouses, or the elderly, a gender-equitable policy enables male employees to share in these responsibilities at home, increasing family cohesion, improving employee happiness (reducing stress), and improving overall productivity. Equitable sick and family leaves policies are also valuable tools for attracting and retaining talent.For guidance on assessing a company's policy, see additional information by the Institute for Women's Policy Research.
Indicates whether the organization has built a breastfeeding-supportive environment (including verbal or written support for breastfeeding employees, access to private rooms, and provision of appropriate breast-pumping breaks available to all breastfeeding employees).
Footnote all assumptions made in determining this metric.
For guidance assessing an organization’s Breastfeeding-Supportive Environment, see guidance by the U.S. Office on Women's Health.
Average tenure of employees of the organization as of the end of the reporting period.
Sum of each employee's tenure/Number of employees
Organizations should footnote all assumptions used. Data should be disaggregated by gender.
Investors should measure changes over time in employee tenure, disaggregated by gender.
Number of complaints registered by employees and contractors of the reporting organization during the reporting period.
Organizations should footnote all assumptions used. Data should be disaggregated by type of complaint filed, gender, and other demographic details, such as sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, and age, among other identities. All employees, including part-time, full-time, temporary, and permanent staff, as well as contractors, should be included in this metric.
This metric captures the number of unique complaints made by employees and contractors of the reporting organization. The metric assumes that the provider has a complaint tracking system as part of its redress system.Organizations are encouraged to report this metric in conjunction with Complaints Ratio (PI5216) and Client Complaint Tracking System (PI9435).
Indicates whether the organization's employment benefits include equivalent spousal and partner benefits.
Footnote all assumptions made in determining this metric.
Equivalent spousal and partner benefits ensure parity between employees with different- and same-sex spouses or partners, regardless of legal marital status. Investors should refer to HRC's Corporate Equality Index for further guidance.