Women’s Economic Empowerment Strategies Should Be Holistic and Integrated

February 9, 2016
  • Aditi Mohapatra

    Former Managing Director, BSR

  • Jessica Davis Pluess

    Former Manager, BSR

“Empowerment of the world’s women is a global imperative,” UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told the audience at the World Economic Forum, in Davos a few weeks ago, as he announced the launch of the UN’s first high-level panel on women’s economic empowerment. This follows on more commitments around women’s advancement: Not only have more than 150 world leaders committed to achieve gender equality by 2030 through the Sustainable Development Goals, but more than 1,000 business leaders are now signatories to the Women’s Empowerment Principles. This sends a clear message: Ensuring women achieve their full economic potential is essential for economic growth, human progress, and business success. 


Today, we are launching a new report, “Building Effective Women’s Economic Empowerment Strategies,” in partnership with the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) and the Oak Foundation, which share our perspective on how companies can design effective women’s economic empowerment strategies through a holistic and integrated approach. The report draws on BSR’s experience working with companies and partners to strengthen the conditions for women to advance at work and build an inclusive economy


“Holistic” means considering the broader conditions necessary for women’s advancement, and “integrated” means using the full set of business assets a company can deploy. This approach builds on a growing body of evidence demonstrating the importance of addressing systemic and structural barriers to gender equality for women to achieve their full economic potential.  

While every industry has a role to play in advancing women’s economic empowerment, each faces unique challenges and has unique opportunities for impact. Our paper highlights four industry sectors and offers insights into how these sectors can use a range of assets, including their people, investments, partnerships, products, purchasing power, and advocacy, to achieve progress on each of the eight building blocks we identify as key to successful empowerment efforts.

While we know much more about what kinds of investments and strategies will help advance women’s empowerment, companies face many internal and external barriers when implementing these strategies. The report highlights three common barriers to progress and offers some emerging lessons and leading company examples of how to overcome them. Importantly, our research revealed the importance of a supportive organizational structure and culture, robust measurement systems, and effective partnerships across and within sectors.

Women’s equality will not be achieved overnight, nor will it be achieved through the actions of one company or even one sector. Collaboration is an essential part of progress. With that, BSR and ICRW are excited to announce the launch of a collaborative initiative, Investing in Women, that seeks to assist companies in designing and implementing integrated and effective women’s empowerment strategies. The initiative will focus on cementing the business case, identifying partnerships, evaluating the results of women’s programs, and identifying opportunities for cross-sector collaboration.

The ambition and commitment of the public and private sectors to advance women’s equality is greater than ever. In the words of Ban Ki-moon, now is the time to build stronger economies, healthier communities, and thriving businesses through a “quantum leap in women’s economic empowerment.”

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