Driving Collective Action on Women’s Empowerment

January 17, 2017
  • Elissa Goldenberg

    Former Manager, BSR

On January 21, hundreds of thousands of women are expected to descend on Washington, D.C., to march in solidarity for women’s equality and to send a strong message to the new administration that women’s rights are human rights and that discrimination of any kind will not be tolerated.

This activism exemplifies the global movement underway around women’s empowerment, which seeks to illuminate the continued struggles women face fighting for their rights, equality, and safety in the workplace, at home, and with respect to their own bodies. Women fight these battles daily—battles that manifest quietly when a woman hesitates whether to go for that promotion or, more visibly and violently, when women are harassed or violated at work or at home. The march on Washington also exemplifies the collective power women—and men—have when they come together to demand change.

For the business community, there is a lot that can be learned from grassroots movements that start with determined individuals and transform into powerful tidal waves of change. Leaders who are willing to be the first to make a bold commitment, invest in unlikely partnerships, or set wildly ambitious targets are our trailblazers. But they can’t do it alone. The challenges facing business today—and those particularly related to women’s progress—transcend any one company, sector, or even the business community as a whole. 

Last year, my colleagues drew attention to the need for effective and ambitious business action on women’s empowerment. Recognizing that investing in women is a business opportunity as well as imperative from a moral standpoint and to development outcomes, companies have started making significant commitments to advance progress for women. Now is the time to take these commitments to the next level. There is much more the business community can achieve by working together to harness the potential presented by women’s advancement. And the business community can’t act alone. Partnerships across sectors and with stakeholders, including national and local governments and women’s funds and grassroots organizations, are essential for tackling the multidimensional barriers that hold women back, scaling solutions, and creating meaningful impact.

Within this context, BSR—in partnership with Win-Win Strategies and supported by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs—ask you to join us as we launch Business Action for Women, a collaborative initiative for companies aimed at driving collective action on progress for women.

At the core of this initiative, a business call to action will align companies around an aspirational vision for what companies hope to achieve through their participation in the group. Companies will also contribute to a shared measurement framework that will help them to measure individual and collective progress.

Moving the needle on critical women’s empowerment issues requires focused collaboration and scalable partnerships. Through company workshops and consultations, we’ve determined three broad areas where companies believe they can make the greatest impact given operational footprint, available assets, current programming, and opportunities for influence.

  1. Advancing Women in Supply Chains: Companies across sectors struggle with female advancement at middle-management levels across the value chain. A McKinsey study found that fully closing gender gaps at work would add up to US$28 trillion in annual GDP by 2025. Through Business Action for Women, we propose focusing on the supply chain, providing a platform for companies and key stakeholders to come together to address the greatest barriers to women’s advancement.
  2. Building Resilience on Raw Materials: Women have a unique role to play as change-makers to address current and future climate-related environmental challenges. However, today women are disproportionately impacted by climate change, with studies showing that women are 14 times more likely to die during a disaster. They are also dramatically underrepresented in the renewable-energy sector, comprising only 20 percent of the workforce. There is untapped potential for women to drive solutions related to adaptation, mitigation, and resilience. Climate solutions also present opportunities for collaboration among sectors such as consumer goods, food and agriculture, technology, and financial services to drive holistic solutions for women’s empowerment.
  3. Eliminating Gender-Based Violence: Tackling gender-based violence is crucial to progress on every other women’s empowerment issue. As my colleague Marat Yu pointed out, violence against women is one of the world’s greatest social, economic, and public-health problems. Not only does it violate women’s human rights, but it also negatively affects business. Despite recognizing gender-based violence as a pervasive issue, companies are often uncertain how to take action. Business Action for Women will provide a platform for broad coalition-building to drive advocacy and policy efforts and tackle adverse norms that condone violence.

BSR will partner with group members to further define the focus areas and develop specific action plans for each cluster during the first half of 2017.

Collaboration and partnerships are at the center of this initiative. Under each of the action clusters, we will seek out partners to align our efforts, avoid duplications, and connect to existing solutions wherever possible. Our partnership with Win-Win Strategies will ensure that women’s voices are the center of all of the work we will do. We also plan to leverage our partnership with the Deliver for Good campaign to link our efforts to work being done by leading women’s NGOs and international organizations to advance the Sustainable Development Goals. For companies already taking action on one of the 12 investment areas, we encourage you to sign on to the campaign to show your commitment now.

Business Action for Women is a three-year initiative that launches this month. We hope you will join us and your peers as we do our part to contribute to a global movement to advance equality and progress for women.

To learn more about Business Action for Women, join our webinar on Wednesday January 25 from 8-9 a.m. PST/11 a.m.-noon EST/5-6 p.m. CET or contact Elissa Goldenberg (egoldenberg@bsr.org) for more information.

Let’s talk about how BSR can help you to transform your business and achieve your sustainability goals.

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