Companies nowadays intuitively know that diversity matters. It is becoming increasingly clear that companies with more diverse workforces perform better financially. Global research by the likes of McKinsey, BCG, ILO & IFC show that companies with gender, racial and ethnic diversity in the workplace are more likely to have financial returns above their national industry medians. 

Frontrunners in gender responsiveness ensure gender diversity in all hierarchical layers and job types, and they treat women, men and people with other gender identities equally (meaning equal career opportunities, earning the same salary for similar positions or assignments, not being forced to work overtime, not being harassed at work, etc). These companies significantly outperform their competitors in terms of increased profitability, productivity, creativity, innovativeness, retention, brand reputation, ability to gauge consumer interest and demand, and complying with (upcoming) legislation. 

Photo credit: Plan International, Liberia.

Wanting to do the right thing

Many businesses aim to “do the right thing” for society and the environment, while securing their own financial health. On top of this, societal pressure grows for gender equality and inclusion, triggered amongst others by #MeToo, demands to break the glass ceiling for women and consumer interest in decent work environments for women. Responsible business conduct is becoming a priority topic on the agenda of corporate boards.

In many conversations we have had over the last few years, companies willing to work on gender equality asked us: Where do I start? Why should I care, it’s a problem of my suppliers, isn’t it? How do I integrate it in my overarching business strategy & HR policy? How does gender equality relate to our efforts related to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and other salient risks I try to address, such as the lack of freedom of association or living wages? What policies actually work in practice? Which gender-specific human rights risks must I mitigate? Are there any useful good practices from my peers that we can use? And is there a way to build back better after Covid-19 and leverage the power of gender responsiveness?

Photo credit: Photo Credits: b.a.sujaN / Plan International / Map Photo Agency, Dhaka, Bangladesh.

A Gender-responsive Human Rights Due Diligence tool

We feel passionate about addressing these challenges, showing how gender diversity & equality helps companies to build back better, and enabling you to get started and/or keep going with gender equality. Plan International (leading the Girls Advocacy Alliance, consisting of Plan, Terre des Hommes, DCI-ECPAT and Global march against Child Labour) and Partnering for Social Impact have created a Gender-responsive Human Right Due Diligence Tool (GR-HRDD) for exactly this reason (look here for a summary). The tool follows the OECD Guidelines and offers companies, insights, learnings and instruments from hundreds of sources. 

The tool provides a deep dive in the business case for gender responsiveness, insights on how gender equality (SDG 5) is fully intertwined and inseparable from all other 16 SDG’s. A maturity assessment helps you to quickly identify the level of GR-HRDD maturity of your company and suppliers, and to choose the best entry point for a more extensive GR-HRDD process. You will also find ready-to-use policy statements, a list of human rights risks that women face and have to be mitigated, good practices, inspiring case studies, easy-to-use tools, and a quiz to raise awareness. 

The tool further supports you in each of the six steps of GR-HRDD:

  1. include gender-equality in your corporate ambition and define associated policies and (supplier) codes of conduct aimed at equal career opportunities for all, same pay for men & women for the same tasks, limit overtime, abandon forced labour, prevent harassment & abuse, guarantee freedom of association, and ensure access to safe natural resources;
  2. identify, assess and prioritise the risks that women face and the negative impacts these may have on them and your top- & bottom-lines, and unearth the root causes of these risks;
  3. define and implement mitigating measures to cease, prevent or reduce gender-specific human rights identified risks (that might still occur despite your stringent policies) by addressing the root causes;
  4. monitor progress on the way to gender equality, learn from unexpected hurdles and grievances, leverage good practices, and further improve your policies and efforts;
  5. inform, engage and commit your stakeholders to jointly achieve gender equality by sharing your ambitions, the steps you take, the progress you make and the dilemmas you face;
  6. address grievances, remedy wrongs, compensate victims of gender-specific human rights violations, and deal with wrongdoers, all in a gender-sensitive way.

Photo credit: Plan International / Fran Alonso

You are not on your own

Private sector actors are capable of addressing complex societal problems. They contribute a tremendous entrepreneurial spirit, perseverance, and a “learning by doing” mentality. Many companies, alone or in close cooperation with peers, their suppliers, government agencies, NGOs, unions, and universities are already experimenting with different ways of becoming more gender responsive in their day-to-day business practices. We applaud you and hope that this tool strengthens your efforts. We urge you to share your own in-depth understandings and practical examples to further improve the GR-HRDD tool for the benefit of all.

Designed to tap into this collaborative spirit, we especially hope this tool galvanises those companies who are starting their journey towards gender equality, who want to reap the benefits of gender diversity, and who want to have a positive impact on girls and women.

We sincerely hope you will look through a gender lens when defining your business strategies and policies, when analysing and mitigating gender specific risks, and remedying any wrongs that may still occur. Do the right thing for society, the women you work with, and your own financial health.

Jos van Heijningen (Plan International Netherlands) and Machteld Ooijens (Partnering for Social Impact), March 8, 2021