13 May 2021

Gender equality, a business imperative

Maxine Gray

Strategy development, Investec Wealth & Investment

Simone Smith

Head of Compliance, Investec Wealth & Investment

Gender equality doesn’t just address a basic human right, it is also a key business imperative and catalyst for growth.

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The Fifth United Nations Sustainable Development Goal is to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. Gender equality is not only a fundamental human right but also serves as a foundation for a peaceful, prosperous, and sustainable world.

 

Gender equality is also a business imperative and catalyst for growth.  It is estimated that approximately US$28 trillion would be added to global GDP by 2025 if there were equal participation by men and women in the global economy. This would not only result in economic growth and a flourishing business sector, but also enable communities to thrive.

 

Ironically, what would enable substantive progress is not necessarily instituting initiatives that simply look to empower women. What really makes a difference is that these initiatives pay closer attention to addressing what holds women back and thereby enables them to rise in their power, when these hindrances are removed. This starts with gaining a comprehensive understanding of the root causes that need to be addressed.

Maxine Gray, Investec Wealth & Investment strategic philanthropy team
Maxine Gray, Strategy development, Investec Wealth & Investment

It is estimated that approximately US$28 trillion would be added to global GDP by 2025 if there were equal participation by men and women in the global economy. This would not only result in economic growth and a flourishing business sector, but also enable communities to thrive.

On average, women earn 50 US cents for every one US dollar earned by a man for the same work. Furthermore, women find that they have to outperform men by 10% before they can receive the same level of consideration for opportunities as their male counterparts. Additionally, there are various systematic gender biases at play regarding access to networks, the anticipation of gender bias in others, limiting women in male dominated sectors, societal expectations of women and the vast amount of unpaid work women are expected to fulfil within their households and families.

 

As best articulated by Melinda Gates, “If you want to uplift humanity, empower women. It is the most comprehensive, pervasive, high-leverage investment you can make in human beings.”

 

At the current rate of transformation, it will take 257 years or 10 generations to close the economic gender gap. This simply cannot be accepted and must be accelerated if we are to achieve SDG 5. The targets of SDG 5 speak to economic inclusion, leadership and decision-making, empowerment through access to technology as well as policies and legislature that promote gender equality. They also deal with aspects of discrimination, violence and harmful practices towards women.

 

Staggering statistics can be found that illustrate the injustice that prevails across the globe. By way of example, in 34 countries, rape within marriage remains a legalised practice, and one in three women globally will be a subject of violence in her lifetime. While progress can be noted, some 20 years since it was agreed to include women in peace talks, they remain excluded. It is not only about doing the right thing, but also about the balance of power and challenging cultural norms, which remains a challenge.

Making business sense

There are businesses cases that show a clear case for gender equality as the smart thing for business performance and sustainability. Studies show that gender diversity leads to improved ESG performance and that, by having more women in leadership, businesses tend to have lower greenhouse gas emissions (39%), decreased energy consumption (64%) and water usage (46%), as well as decreased levels of fraud and improved working conditions.

 

Within business, gender equality is the commercial choice. This means ensuring a gender lens is applied when defining policies, practices, and corporate strategies, and that frameworks or steps to empower women within the workplace, marketplace and communities, are developed and implemented.

 

Within industries, gender equality is a pre-requisite to foster growth. This means building capacity within organisations and their partners, working collaboratively with unions, civil society organisations and others. It means working to advance gender parity as well as being aware, sensitive and responsive to the varying impacts that certain policies or practices may have on men and women.

 

Within communities, gender equality is fundamental for upliftment and cohesion. This means enabling and ensuring all girls are attending school, that women and girls are protected and live without the risk of being victims of violence, that working women receive equal pay for equal work and that all women and girls are enabled to make choices and design their own destiny.

 

Across all spaces of our society, we need to protect and respect women and girls for the varying roles they play within our society and for all that they have to offer, beyond the scope of any perceived limitations. We need to move beyond pure gender integration as a tick box exercise and innovate to go further in designing a world where men and women are enabled to flourish, together.

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