Growth in women’s income, education levels, and labor participation rates makes them essential participants in the global economy, and engagement with women and girls increasingly critical to sustainable growth for every industry. Women contribute to the private sector’s social license to operate; market, crop, and supply chain stability; a talented and stable employee base; and market growth and innovation. Additionally, investments in women have a multiplier effect, as women are more likely to reinvest in education, health, and economic activities at the community level.

BSR’s new research series, “Women and Sustainability,” identifies trends and provides recommendations to help our members invest in women as consumers, employees, community members, and partners. Launched today in honor of International Women’s Day, the series explores the different ways companies can engage women to solve key sustainability challenges, including sustainable consumption, diversity and inclusion, and community engagement.

The four research briefs provide in-depth, business-specific context to help company managers understand the critical issues and develop action plans to address the challenges and opportunities related to investing in women.

  • Investing in Women’s Economic Empowerment: Investments in women’s economic empowerment are a strategic means to create and support markets, by providing jobs, opportunities for professional development, financial literacy and access to banking, and start-up capital and capacity-building to help women run small businesses.
  • Investing in Women’s Health: The gender dimensions of health have significant impacts on workplace productivity, the consumer marketplace, community stability, and community member well-being. Investments targeted at raising women’s health awareness and access to health products and services can deliver important immediate business benefits, including more productive workforces or more informed consumers. In the long term, these investments also support women’s full economic participation and contribute to healthier, more stable communities.
  • Employing Women Responsibly: The Emerging Market Context: With post-secondary education and formal workforce participation rates approaching 50 percent, women employees may be just what multinational companies need to overcome labor shortages in emerging markets. However, challenges in the workplace and at home often prevent women from seeking employment or excelling at their jobs. Businesses operating in emerging markets that do not understand the unique challenges women employees face, may find that they are unable to attract and retain vital female talent. This brief will be released on March 29, and will describe best practices for corporate diversity and inclusion policies and professional development programs in the emerging-market context.
  • Engaging Female Consumers: The race to gain market share in emerging markets continues to take a geographic perspective, even when the largest market potential is in fact demographic. Women represent what may be the largest emerging market, and companies that fail to adapt their offerings to the increasingly feminized consumer base risk falling behind their competitors. Companies can capture this huge market potential by rethinking product design, production processes, and market growth and entry strategies.

    This brief explores opportunities to attract female consumers by engaging them on sustainable consumption and empowering female consumption decisions in new markets by creating more accessible products and services. Leading companies can address women’s needs and preferences by moving toward more sustainable consumption models and linking sustainability to some of women’s traditional consumption motivations such as health, value, and community well-being. This brief will be released on March 15.

What Can You Do: Call to Action

For all companies, regardless of industry or level of sustainability program sophistication, BSR recommends the following:

  • Look internally: What are you doing right, and where are you falling short on gender issues?

    • Obtain gender-disaggregated data on direct employees, management, and board members to assess gender equity, particularly at senior levels.
    • Ensure your direct operations, subsidiary operations, and suppliers comply with labor rights and human rights, including those specifically related to women like maternity leave or sexual harassment policies.
    • Create leadership and professional development opportunities for women.
    • Provide enhanced social benefits, such as childcare, transportation, and financial literacy training opportunities for female employees in your emerging-market operations.
  • Do your homework: Where does the greatest need or opportunity exist for investment in gender equity in your value chain and business strategy?

    • Familiarize yourself with women’s issues in key markets and operations, such as women’s rights violations, health risks, barriers to workforce entry, or other relevant issues.
    • Explore any overlap between your business and sustainability strategies and women’s issues. Read our "Investing in Women" briefs on economic empowerment and health for a simple process to follow.
  • Get external input: What can NGO experts, your consumers, your suppliers and subsidiaries, and peer companies teach you about women and your business?

    • Survey female consumers in target markets on their purchasing decisions and attitudes toward sustainable options.
    • Talk to your suppliers or subsidiaries to find out how they are working with and serving women, and what their challenges are.
    • Partner with NGO’s familiar with women-specific issues to implement programs in your business.
    • Learn from best practices by companies in your sector and other sectors, such as Best Buy’s WOLF initiative, Lonmin’s Women in Mining Program, and HP’s Infant HIV diagnosis program. See "Investing in Women" Appendix for industry-specific examples of economic empowerment and health initiatives.
  • Speak out about your commitments: What platforms exist to share your efforts and learn from and motivate others?

We hope the "Women and Sustainability" series will empower more companies across all industries to invest strategically in women around the world. By integrating women into business and sustainability strategies, companies can help women become part of the solution to building a more just and sustainable world.

Acknowledgements: “Investing in Women’s Economic Empowerment” and “Investing in Women’s Health” were authored by Racheal Yeager; “Employing Women Responsibly” was authored by Jennifer Schappert; “Engaging Female Consumers” was authored by Amaya Gorostiaga. Kara Hurst and Julia Nelson provided strategic guidance for the series.