Gender equality: it's your business | Gender Equality

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This Briefing for Business is intended for senior managers in global and national companies, especially those retailing and producing food and fast-moving consumer goods, and which source goods or labour in developing countries. Although many companies already do much to protect human rights in their operations and value chains, there is more that they can and must do. In this Briefing for Business, we concentrate on gender equality and the responsibilities of business to uphold and promote it, recognising that business can have a positive impact on the lives and status of women as well as men, while enhancing companies’ own productivity and reputation.
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  Gender equa l i t y:  i t’s  your  bus iness   International Edition 7 Practical advice on achieving gender equality:  Within your business; In your value chain; When purchasing food commodities; When providing services and products in developing economies.  Gender equality gives businesses the opportunity to hire from a wider pool of talent, gain greater insights into consumers’ needs, and improve the security and quality of supply. Is your business taking it seriously? Enlightened businesses are realising that enabling women’s full potential delivers returns. For business, equal treatment of women and men means access to the most talented pool of workers, a more balanced and talented board, greater appeal to the consumer base, an enhanced corporate reputation, and even a more stable supply of basic commodities.  Tackling gender inequality is also the right thing to do, as inequality increases women’s vulnerability to poverty and suffering. And yet aggregate performance on gender equality in the business sector has been poor: ã  Only 13 of the largest 500 corporations in the world have female CEOs. 1   ã  Women are over-represented in precarious, low-waged, or informal sectors of the economy in most countries. 2   ã  Female food producers have less access than men to the resources that are crucial for efcient food production (training, inputs, extension services, and nancial services). Oxfam recognises that signicant factors contribute to gender inequality that are neither within the direct control of companies nor their sole responsibility to x. These include factors such as poor educational provision for girls or cultural restrictions on women’s freedom of movement. However, Oxfam does not accept the myth that gender inequality is a social and cultural phenomenon for governments to deal with, and from which business is somehow separate. Like every part of society, companies can seek to prot from gender inequality, do nothing, or seek to redress it. Throughout this brieng paper, we make the case that the responsibility of business to treat women and men equally in its operations, and the business advantage in stepping up on gender equality, are entirely compatible. There are strong ethical, legal, and business imperatives for delivering far better and far faster on gender equality throughout business operations and value chains. We also point business to resources to get on with the task, and call on them to step up – and communicate how they are stepping up – as leaders in this area. Jeremy Hobbs  3 We concentrate on gender equality and the responsibilities of business to uphold and promote it, in recognition that business can have a positive impact on the lives and status of women as well as men, while enhancing companies’ own productivity and reputation.  We set out why companies should pay attention to gender equality, giving compelling reasons related both to women’s rights and to the business case for doing so. We then show how to better address gender equality within a business, recognising that some business leaders are convinced of why   they should address this issue, but struggle with  how  .  The four separate areas in which business operations most clearly interact with, and inuence, women’s rights and participation in markets considered within are: ã  Business as a large, direct employer; ã  Business as a key player in value chains; ã  Business as a purchaser of food commodities; ã  Business as a provider of products and services in developing countries.We therefore address each of these in turn, with recommendations for action and useful case studies of existing company practices. Introduction   This Briefing for Business is intended for senior managers in global and national companies, especially those retailing and producing food and fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG), 3  and which source goods or labour in developing countries. 4   Although many companies already do much to protect human rights in their operations and value chains, there is more that they can and must do. Debunking popular myths 1. ‘Gender inequality is a social and cultural phenomenon for governments to deal with – my business does not create or influence it.’ Business does not operate in a vacuum. Modern markets and economic and corporate policies can maintain and create gender inequality every bit as much as culture and society do. As the latest World Development Report observes, institutions governing markets tend to reect the interests of those who hold more power in society. 5  Within these often inequitable market structures, businesses can apply practices that enable them to benet from inequality between the sexes. Commonplace examples include the practice of gendered job segregation, where women are clustered in the lowest-paid sections of the workforce, or the employment of school-aged girls, often earning less than a living wage, who are thus denied education. 2. ‘If my company hires women, women are better off.’  The true costs and rewards to women and society from employment depend on the conditions of that employment. Women are far more likely than men to be in precarious and informal employment. 6  This means being unprotected by written contracts or employee status, without regular hours or xed incomes, and often being paid well below a living wage. This type of labour force participation carries a cost to those who undertake it – precarious work presents serious risks to an individual worker’s health, safety, and income – and the majority of those in precarious work are female.  The equality arguments  There are both compelling equality and efciency arguments for tackling gender inequality in your business. Taking equality rst, women and men face different challenges and may have different aspirations, but they have the same rights and thus must have the same opportunity and support to realise them. Currently, women bear a disproportionate share of household and domestic labour, performing 80 per cent of unpaid caring roles globally. 8  Women in the paid workforce and throughout value chains are statistically far more likely than men to be undertaking signicant domestic labour on top of paid employment. A UN survey on gender and care and non-care work across six countries found that ‘for all countries, the mean time spent on unpaid care work by women is more than twice that for men’ and that when paid and unpaid care work are combined, ‘women are found to do noticeably more work than men in all countries’. 9   While Oxfam supports a more equitable distribution of household labour between men and women and recognises that gender inequality in domestic labour is not the responsibility of business alone to tackle, business needs to recognise that it gains essential social goods from the household. Business could not function without the largely unpaid work required for healthy, educated employees to come to work each day, and the bulk of this work is performed by women. Certain abuses of working conditions therefore – such as long working hours and obligatory, unannounced overtime – are not only wrong in themselves, but also disproportionately affect and disadvantage women, and conict far more with their greater domestic burdens. 4 Debunking popular myths (cont’d) 3. ‘All profit generation and business activity that creates opportunities for women is good for them and for society – I’m contributing to gender equality.’ In the environmental arena, the tension between immediate gain and future survival is now well understood. Businesses are aware that reducing pollutants and carbon usage is critical for future economic growth.  Yet in the area of gender equality, the cost of short-term, prot-driven approaches towards gender and labour is understood only by the most progressive. Women currently contribute signicantly more to the unpaid economy than men. A 2008 UN study of contributions by gender to unpaid care work across six countries found that ‘the mean time spent on unpaid care work by women is more than twice that for men’. In India, the gap is greatest, with women spending almost ten times more time than men on unpaid care work. It is this type of unpaid labour that enables healthy, educated, and rested employees to come to work each day. Concentrating women in precarious employment that endangers their health threatens not only their own well-being but also the health of the broader workforce. ‘Gender equality is a critical component of social progress. It is a basic right that does not need economic justification.’ – Evidence for Action, Gender Equality and Economic Growth, p. vii 7
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