A growing number of companies understand that empowering women is essential to business innovation, productivity, risk management, and market growth. This report draws on insights gathered from interviews with 10 multinational companies actively engaged in advancing women’s economic empowerment, as well as a comprehensive review of the latest literature and leading company practices and programs.
In the report, we aim to help companies build effective strategies for women’s economic empowerment by applying a holistic and integrated approach: “holistic” in considering the broader conditions necessary for women’s advancement and “integrated” in leveraging the full set of business assets a company can deploy. We focus on opportunities across four sectors—information and communications technology, healthcare, financial services, and consumer products.
The report provides illustrative examples for the following industries:
- The Information and Communications Technology (ICT) industry is helping improve the lives of millions of women through better access to markets, knowledge, and networks. Yet gender inequality persists as a digital divide in many countries, undermining the industry’s ability to equalize women’s and men’s opportunities. Moreover, when women do access the internet, they face troubling rates of online harassment. As the industry grows, it also faces challenges in attracting and retaining female employees at all job levels. There are signs of change, however, thanks to some pioneering companies that are exploring better parental leave policies, investing in science and technology education for girls, and engaging in debate with governments and peers about how to unlock more opportunities for women in the workplace and as users of technology.
- The Healthcare industry has a unique role to play in helping improve the lives of women through access to medicines and care. While some leading companies have been working to expand this access, much more is needed to address the affordability and availability of medical care for women. Women’s perspectives and needs also must be considered more fully during the early stages of R&D for new medicines and medical technology. Challenges to women’s advancement as employees and frontline healthcare workers also remain. Strengthening the skills, knowledge, and access to equipment for frontline health workers is a critical opportunity for the industry to address talent shortages in healthcare delivery as well as strengthen opportunities for women.
- The Financial Services industry has been steadily expanding efforts to improve women’s financial literacy, provide more savings and credit options, and offer training and mentoring for women business owners. However, in much of the world, legal and socio-cultural barriers continue to limit women’s access to and use of financial products and services. As women become an increasingly important investor and client demographic, more banks and insurance companies are seeing the need to attract and retain women at all levels of the industry to reflect their changing client base and capture a growing market.
- The Consumer Products industry has played a critical role in unlocking economic opportunities for women in manufacturing, retail, and agriculture. Yet women tend to hold some of the lowest-paying jobs in the industry and face unique challenges to their health, safety, and well-being. The industry reaches billions of consumers every day, providing it incredible opportunities to shape and influence the mindsets and behaviors of both men and women through its marketing, products, and retail services.
The report was written in partnership with the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) and sponsored by the Oak Foundation.