Guest author

SDG 5: Industry specific business opportunities to empower women

9. Mar 2016

This year, International Women’s Day is an important time to reflect on business women’s role in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Empowering women in the workforce enables women to play their full role in creating the world we want – a world which must be co-created by men and women in order to meet the needs and aspirations of both men and women. This higher purpose should provide extra impetus for companies to increase the share of women on company Boards and in senior roles, invest in policies and programmes which support women in the workforce, and encourage organisations in their value chain to do the same.

SDG 5 ‘Gender equality’: Opportunities for Shared Value

I have been encouraged that in the process of compiling the SDG Industry Matrix series with the UN Global Compact, we have found many enlightened companies which view the women’s market as a distinct value proposition sponsored and led by the Board and Executive Management. Their approach is informed by market research and delivered with a tailored brand strategy which drives progress towards clear, gender disaggregated key performance indicators.

In the Financial Services industry we found companies designing new savings, credit and insurance products and distribution models which enable women in high-growth markets to establish and grow businesses in both urban and rural environments. Some are adapting credit processes for women in countries where legislation or custom preclude them from owning land or property title, and others are expanding maternal health insurance. I think these investment examples are particularly interesting:

  • Women’s World Banking Capital Partner is a women-focused and women-managed microfinance equity fund investing in the provision of financial products and services to unbanked and under-banked women;

  • PAX World Management LLC integrates diversity analysis and other gender criteria into the company research it conducts for its mutual funds. Its Global Women’s Equality Fund is the first mutual fund in America focused on investing in companies around the world that are leaders in advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment.

In the Food, Beverage and Consumer Goods industry several companies are providing female entrepreneurs and small business owners with training, support and access to markets and supply chains. There is also an opportunity for the industry to help women access finance for improved seeds, tools and fertilisers, thereby benefiting the food companies they supply (-women farmers’ yields are 20-30% lower than men). Another win-win would be for the industry to invest in the integration of technology into farming systems as a key enabler for creating opportunities for women to participate in farming whilst also fulfilling family responsibilities. A couple of the encouraging examples of leading practice include:

  • The Coca-Cola Company’s 5by20 a commitment to enable the economic empowerment of five million women entrepreneurs across the company’s global value chain by 2020. By the end of 2014 over 865,000 women in 52 countries had been supported with business skills training, access to funding and mentoring.

  • Walmart’s dedicated online space which gives shoppers the opportunity to buy unique products whilst supporting small women-owned businesses around the world. This year, Walmart also aims to source US$20 billion from women-owned businesses in the US and to have doubled its international sourcing from women-owned businesses.

Closing Reflection

For several years, institutional donors have required NGOs to ‘mainstream’ gender into their development programme design, delivery and reporting. Now that businesses are a major development actor, they need to catch up and ensure that their core business and community programmes specifically consider the needs and aspirations of women and girls, and design strategies which increase the positive impact which their business has on them. One quick way to achieve this at scale would be for the multitude of global multi-stakeholder collaborations (-summarised in the SDG Industry Matrix publications) to apply a gender lens to their work. CEOs can set the tone from the top by joining the 1,179 other CEOs who have signed the CEO Statement of Support for the Women’s Empowerment Principles, signalling their support for gender equality and the guidance provided by the Principles.

This post is a part of the March 2016 series on Inclusive Business and the Sustainable Development Goals. View the whole series for more examples, tools and insights to help you understand what the SDGs mean for business.