What’s in this spotlight?
This is an overview for buyers on why it is important to include a gender lens to procurement strategies and practices. It provides a practical step-by-step guide on how buyers can advance gender equality and promote non-discrimination through procurement decisions and explains the business benefits of sourcing from women-owned or gender-responsive businesses.
While this Spotlight is focused on advancing gender equality in supply chains, it also recognises the multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination, including factors such as race, ethnicity, religion or belief, disability, health, social status, age, class, caste, sexual orientation, gender identity, national extraction or social origin.
The importance of gender equality
Gender equality is a fundamental human right, and the responsibility to respect human rights is a global standard of expected conduct for all businesses wherever they operate.
Empowering women and promoting gender equality creates social and economic value in the marketplace, workplace and community. Gender equality is crucial to accelerating sustainable development and achieving Sustainable Development Goal 5: Gender Equality, Goal 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth and Goal 10: Reduced Inequalities, and it has a multiplier effect across all other development areas. Equality of opportunity and treatment for all genders is an essential aspect of decent work.
Gender equality in the world of work means promoting opportunities for all genders to obtain decent work in conditions of freedom, equity, security and human dignity.
Gender equality in the world of work means promoting opportunities for all genders to obtain decent work in conditions of freedom, equity, security and human dignity. This means, for instance, enhancing decent employment opportunities through measures that also aim to improve women’s access to education, skills training, and health care while considering women’s role in the care economy. An example would be to ensure family-friendly work practices are in place, including providing workplace-level incentives for the provision of child care and parental leave.
Barriers to gender equality
Achieving gender equality means eradicating all forms of discrimination and removing all barriers that prevent equal opportunities across all genders. For example, according to the World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report 2022, at the current rate of progress the economic gender gap will close in 151 years, representing multiple generations to parity.
Although this is a slight improvement from last year's estimate, the report emphasizes that as crises are compounding, women's workforce outcomes are suffering and the risk of global gender parity backsliding further intensifies. Despite global progress on gender equality in recent decades, several barriers remain:
Women lack of access to paid employment, equal pay for work of equal value and opportunities for career progression and leadership positions.
- Globally, women are paid approximately 20 percent less than men. Importantly, while wide variations among countries exist, in all countries men earn more than women earn.
- Women represent just 27 percent of all manager positions, a figure that has changed very little over the past 20 years. In addition, women with children face motherhood employment, wage and leadership penalties throughout their careers.
- The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionally affected women, causing unprecedented job and income losses that will persist in the near future.
- In 2022, the number of women running Fortune Global 500 companies increased to an all-time high of 24, but this only represents less than 5 percent of the companies.
Women experience violence, sexual exploitation and abuse within communities, homes and the workplace.
- Estimates suggest that globally as many as 75 percent of women over age 18 – at least 2 billion women – have experienced sexual harassment at work.
- One in five women and girls has experienced physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner within the last 12 months, yet 49 countries have no laws that specifically protect women from such violence.
Maternity- and paternity-based discrimination and lack of access to maternity and paternity leave policies.
- Around the world, 649 million women face inadequate maternity protection. Despite progress in maternity benefits and a trend supporting paternity leave, the International Labour Organization finds that most women around the world are not protected from discrimination at work due to parenthood.
- Pregnant workers often face multiple types of discriminatory treatment and behaviour, such as the lack of job mobility and promotions, redundancy and pay and job assignment decreases, which can also impact the health of the mother and baby.
- While paternity leave is key in enabling men’s care rights and responsibilities, it remains short across the world and inaccessible to almost two-thirds of potential fathers.
- Leave for both parents minimizes the risk of stigma women may experience at work and ensures greater gender parity in pay and career opportunity.
Women have limited access to education and skills development and unequal division of unpaid care and domestic work, which can contribute to limited access to employment and economic opportunities.
Educational disadvantages accumulate throughout women’s lives, as they are more likely to be in vulnerable employment and assume a higher burden of household, community and care responsibilities. This limits their access to education and training, which can prevent them from being able to enter the labour force and can confine them to lower-paid and lower-status jobs than those of men.
Legal and technical barriers to entrepreneurship, as well to ownership and administration of assets.
- In 104 economies around the world, women cannot run a business in the same way as men do.
- Women own one-third of all businesses worldwide but make up just 1 percent of global procurement of large corporations.
- Women entrepreneurs and employers face significantly greater challenges than do men in gaining access to financial services. Restrictions on opening a bank account, such as requirements for a male family member’s permission, restrict women’s access to accounts. Restrictions to access to credit and the lack of financial education can also limit women from gaining access to and benefitting from financial services.
Challenges for women-owned businesses:
In many countries, women do not own or have rights to land and other productive resources and therefore lack the collateral required by most financial institutions to secure loans. Yet women own or run more than a third of all small and medium enterprises in emerging markets. One of the biggest barriers to their growth is lack of finance—amounting to an estimated $1.48 trillion for women-owned SMEs.
Women-owned businesses lack access to alternative financing arrangements such as loans to grow their businesses. For women who qualify for debt financing, financial institutions often offer less favourable terms in comparison to those offered to men. As a result, women typically start their businesses with less capital and have less access to financing than men, limiting their ability to start and grow their businesses.
Women may have limited access to social capital, including business connections and networks. Female entrepreneurs operate in smaller, less diverse networks than men and are less likely to seek the support of their social networks for business growth. Information about opportunities is not always shared transparently and openly. There are fewer networking platforms available to women, and they are even excluded from participating in some instances. As a result, women often miss out on business opportunities needed to support their growth.
Despite recent gains in access to education and skills development, women continue to lag behind men in terms of business and managerial experience, which are key skills for entrepreneurial success. Women bear a disproportionate responsibility for family care and household-related chores, which does not change when women enter the workforce or start a business. This limits the time they can invest in their careers and businesses, which in turn limits growth. Women also lack access to markets, digital assets, such as the internet and mobile phones, information and peer-to-peer networks, all of which limit their economic opportunities.
Women are less likely to access the internet than men, and these gaps widen in emerging markets. Globally, the proportion of women using the internet globally is 57 percent (5 percentage points less than men), compared with 62 percent of men, as of 2020. In least developed countries, 19 percent of women (12 percentage points less than men) and 31 percent of men were using the internet, as of 2020.
Applying a gender lens to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights
Women and girls experience business-related human rights abuses in unique ways and are often affected disproportionately, including facing multiple forms of discrimination and experiencing additional barriers in seeking access to effective remedies.
The UN Guiding Principles (UNGPs) acknowledge the importance of gender in several places (Principles 3, 7, 12 and 20). However, progress toward gender equality has been slow. This has resulted in increased efforts to ensure that the measures taken to implement the UNGPs are gender-responsive, including the publication of specific guidance and illustrative actions for each of the UNGPs.
Case Study: The positive role a company can play in advancing gender equality
L’Oréal launched its Solidarity Sourcing Programme in 2010. It contributes to inclusive programmes in communities within L’Oréal’s supply chain, including support for women entrepreneurs, and aims to open contracts to companies that employ people from diverse communities andtraditionally do not have access to large contracts with multinational companies, such as some women-owned and gender-responsive businesses. To date, more than 47,000 people have been supported through women’s empowerment programmes. L’Oréal uses its purchasing power to have a positive impact beyond its direct footprint by applying its Diversity & Inclusion strategy to suppliers – 22 percent of L’Oréal’s strategic suppliers have initiated similar programmes in their supply chains.
Citi uses its purchasing power to actively seek diverse suppliers. This includes participating in organisations that support and develop women-owned businesses and inviting diverse suppliers to learn how to do business with Citi by sharing information and providing opportunities for them to review and comment on upcoming contracts and identify bidding obstacles. For Citi, supplier diversity is a strategic business imperative as it leads to continued advancement, innovation and creativity, and it creates mutually beneficial business relationships that strengthen the communities it serves.
Tesco is committed to increasing representation of women in leadership roles and ensuring women have opportunities for development and progression. Tesco is working in partnership with its direct suppliers towards the ambition for at least 30 percent of supervisory and management roles to be occupied by women by the end of 2025. To achieve this, Tesco is asking its suppliers to assess the breakdown of their total workforce and develop action plans to improve representation where it currently falls short.
Additional examples from an emerging market can be found in International Financial Center’s Sourcing2Equal Kenya: Barriers and Approaches to Increase Access to Markets for Women- Owned Businesses