Embedding Gender Into Sustainability Reporting

Sustainability reporting is increasingly being debated by international policy makers as a necessary legal requirement. Several international and regional organizations and initiatives have referenced their policies to sustainability reporting1. The message is clear: Managing, measuring and reporting Environmental, Social and Governmental (ESG)performance is becoming essential.

The case for promoting gender equality and integrating gender into sustainability reports in particular is multi-faceted. Gender equality has long been enshrined in the international legal and policy frameworks ratified by governments around the world, yet inequality is still shamefully present throughout our societies.

Pakistan’s Country Gender Profile underlines this mismatch between legal rights and their state of implementation. Barriers to equally access education and health services and a lack of economic empowerment here a reformed policy framework is needed which can truly tackle women’s shortcomings and systematic exclusion. While policy- makers take steps towards gender equality in the legal framework, companies are increasingly expected to support this process and to ensure gender equality in their realm. Globally, these expectations are in the process of being formalized in requirements for national public spending, subsidiaries and for development aid by international development agencies.

Gender Equality: Current Priority of the Global Reporting Initiative

The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) was founded twelve years ago with the mission to develop a disclosure framework for sustainability information. Today, GRI has turned into an international multi- stakeholder network of over 30.000 people globally involved in sustainability reporting.

This enormous growth depicts the business’ need for a management and communications tool to report their sustainability performance. The GRI G3 Guidelines respond to this need for a global framework for sustainability reporting. The G3 Guidelines, developed using a multi- stakeholder consensus seeking approach, are currently being used by 1362 reporters.

In 2009, GRI has been working with the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and supported by the governments of Iceland, Germany, and Switzerland to produce the consensus driven multi- stakeholder educational resource A Practitioner’s Guide: Embedding Gender in Sustainability Reporting (hereafter Practitioner’s Guide), to help organizations using the GRI Sustainability Reporting Framework embed material gender issues in their sustainability reports.

A range of issues related to gender practices and reporting are described in this Practitioner’s Guide related to organizational governance and values, the workplace, the supply chain, the community, consumers, and investment. Currently, a working group of Gender experts, industry representatives and stakeholders is updating the G3 Guidelines with regard to these recommendations.

Organizational Governance and Values

The tone of every organization’s public policy is found to be established by its governing principles. Just in case respect for gender equality is being incorporated, management decisions can be hold internally accountable to this principle a later stage. Business case reasons for including gender-equality considerations in policies that determine an organization’s governing principles and organizational culture are increa-singly being considered by companies: governing boards have the duty to protect stakeholder value which cannot be achieved if a) the full potential of women is not recognized and/or realized; and b) the organization is not being protected from potential business risks associated with, for example, negative reputation or litigation risks related to undesirable gender-practices.

Gender Equality and the Workplace

More women than men are increasingly receiving university degrees in many countries. This trend is accompanied by increased participation of women in the labour force. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), 1.2 billion women worldwide worked in 2007 – an 18.4 percent increase from 1997. However, globally the employment gender gap is still prevalent and fewer women than men participate in the formal labor force.

Practitioner’s Guide encourages companies to promote female participation in the workforce. In the light of an ageing population, companies will eventually have to deal with a scarcity of highly skilled workers. An early response which allows women to enhance their careers can reach a competitive advantage.

But it was found that not all women want to join the workforce and many actively choose to remain at home. In many circumstances there are disincentives to women’s participation in the formal workforce. Measuring and reporting will help companies understand where they have these systematic disadvantages in place or feed to women’s inequality in society.

Gender Equality and the Supply Chain

Of particular relevance for Pakistan is the aspect of gender equality in supply chains. Globalized markets mean that many goods and services, particularly those that represent labour-intensive stages of the supply chain, are now outsourced by organizations to small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) based in new markets.

According to Oxfam, globali-zation has drawn millions of women into paid employment across the developing world. The Practitioner’s Guide works for this end, as it encourages organizations to help their suppliers better understand, manage, measure, and improve their gender sustainability performance.

Gender Equality and the Community

Local communities provide a pool of potential employees and a home to existing employees, potential suppliers and a customer base.

Communities are not homogeneous, and there can be divergent characteristics, views, and opinions within groups of women and men. Therefore it should be noted that the gender priorities of an organization may not necessarily reflect those of the local community, and vice-versa. But why to have a special focus on women and gender equality in these programmes? There is evidence and international agreement that women are disproportionately affected by and more vulnerable to poverty. By addressing the root causes of gender inequality through their outreach in local communities, organizations can also contribute to combating widespread global poverty.

Gender Equality and Consumers

Most consumer purchasing decisions are made by women and they are predisposed to buy organic and eco-labeled products and give more consideration in their purchases to ethical issues such as child labor and fair trade. Yet, while the female economy is said to represent a growth market more than twice as big as the opportunity of China and India combined, the female consumer is widely considered underestimated and underserved.

The Ethical Consumerism Report by the Co-operative Bank notes that in consumer markets demand for sustainable and ethical products is rising. In such markets, responsible marketing and development of products and services can play an important role in promoting gender equality, influencing society’s perceptions of gender roles, and challenging stereotypes.

The Practitioner’s Guide considers Gender equality at all relevant interfaces between organizations with consumers through its products and services, its advertising of these, and their distribution to the end user.

Gender Equality and Investment

Although the impact of an organization’s gender practices on financial markets and business performance is not fully understood, organizations with gender-discriminatory practices may face a risk of damage to their reputation, losses in shareholder value, and costly litigation. Gender Performance as an Investment Decision Making Criterion is applied by an increased range of sustainable investment funds which builds a business case for organizations to measure and report on it.

The Practitioner’s Guide sees organizations also in the role to encourage and build the capacity of women as investors and shareholders.With this overview GRI encourages reporters and stakeholders to make use of the full Practitioner’s Guide and of the GRI G3 Guidelines as a unique guide to integrate gender and other relevant information into their future reports as part of addressing their stakeholders’ concerns and operationalizing their commitment to a world of equality and sustainable development.

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Author Information

Svenja Stropahl joined the Global Reporting Initiative for a research internship. She is working with Katherine Miles on a range of Sector Supplement Projects and the Gender Revision Project. In 2009 she graduated in European Studies at the University of Bremen in Germany with a focus on Human Rights and Sustainable Development.

One Response to “Embedding Gender Into Sustainability Reporting”

  1. iftikhar haq #

    Nice article.Pakistan seems to be beset by unique cultural n religious problems in this respect. There is an urgent need to suggest n implement practical measures.Women like Svenja who understand these implications can immensely contribute in this drive.

    July 5, 2010 at 2:28 pm Reply

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