Every Day Counts: ESG Strategies for Gender Equality

Published on 15 March 2024

“What we observe in high-income countries, low-income countries, and middle-income countries is that you have gender inequality everywhere.” - Hélène Périvier, Economist and Head of the PRESAGE programme at Sciences Pro in Paris, France. 

Accelerating progress towards advancing SDG 5 with ESG in the private sector 

UN reports from 2023 show that many of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) targets are falling short, with over 30 per cent showing no improvement since 2015. The slow pace of progress suggests it will take centuries to achieve SDG 5 on gender equality. 

Growing recognition of Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) considerations and their connection to gender equality remains largely overlooked, especially within the private sector, much due to societal norms and perpetuating systems of inequalities.

For the first 2024 WEPs deep-dive webinar on 17 January, UN Women invited two distinguished speakers to address these challenges: Hélène Périvier, Head of the PRESAGE programme at Sciences Po Paris, France, and Sharon Anderes, Global Corporate Communications Manager and Vice-President ERB at Nespresso, a WEPs signatory. The session centered around the theme of "Gender Equality & ESG," exploring the basics of gender equality and its intersection with the other SDGs and ESG.

The impact of gender norms on inequalities in the labour market

Since 1990, global female labour force participation has increased to around 50 per cent compared to 80 per cent for men, according to the World Bank’s Gender Data. Regardless of a country’s income status, when female labour participation increases, GDP/capita also increases. Despite progress towards gender equality, significant gaps persist.

In her remarks, Hélène highlighted the macroeconomic drivers behind the increase in women’s labour force participation, alongside changes in European welfare states promoting work-life balance. New family policies that enabled women to pursue both career advancement and parenthood simultaneously marked progress. 

However, the ongoing gender division of labour contributes to the gender pay gap and decreased representation of women. Women, though more educated, remain underrepresented in high-paying fields due to gender bias in education and employment opportunities. Recruitment bias and discrimination further exacerbate this, fueling the "child penalty" in the economy – the drop in women's wages post-motherhood while men's incomes remain stable. 

Gender norms are a significant factor that contributes to the child penalty, with conservative gender norms correlating with higher levels of inequality. “The child penalty something that we observe everywhere,” explains Hélène. “The division of labour within couples explains in part the gender inequalities in all countries. Even in countries in which you have public policies that are supposed to be committed to gender equality.”

The role of the private sector in advancing gender equality 

In today's world, consumers, especially the younger generation, are not just purchasing products; they are investing in companies that reflect their values. “The community is watching. It’s no longer enough to say that we’re going to do something and not do it,” says Sharon. Brands demonstrating genuine commitment to societal issues like gender equality are gaining trust and loyalty. It is no longer acceptable for private companies to solely focus on business; consumers demand brands to stand up for key values, leading to authenticity and trust. 

Empowering women in the coffee community by cultivating spaces of understanding and equality

Nespresso has implemented concrete actions aligned with the WEPs to advance gender equality in the coffee industry. In 2003, it launched its AAA Sustainable Quality Programme in partnership with the Rainforest Alliance, expanding globally to support 140,018 coffee farmers, including women, with training and resources. Under this programme, the company engaged in targeted education and training initiatives with coffee farmers in Costa Rica by providing resources and opportunities for economic empowerment, as well as facilitating career advancement through specialized training programmes tailored to the needs of women farmers. The company also received B Corp certification to further commit to social and environmental responsibility. 

In 2017, the company launched a gender equality strategy programme, focusing on systemic change and long-term impact in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia and Kenya. These initiatives range from supporting financial decision-making to creating safe spaces for women and ensuring their active participation in the community. One activity, an experiential gender equality training programme in Kenya, known as the "power walk," provides participants with insights into the challenges faced by different individuals, particularly women, emphasizing the importance of understanding diverse perspectives and needs. 

“The power walk starts with everybody on equal ground where we’re all standing in one line,” describes Sharon. “We are [each] given different and diverse personas. The facilitator tells us of an opportunity and depending on the opportunity, for example, going to a training five hours from your community that starts at five in the morning. You would have to look at your Persona and move forward if you’re able to attend that training. Or you move backwards if you’re not able to attend. As we go through the training, what we find is a lot of people who were stepping back more were women.”

Sharon's emphasis on understanding the target audience's needs highlights the pivotal role of companies in advancing SDG 5 through targeted WEPs implementation. The company's efforts in the coffee sector closely align with the WEPs, particularly Principle 4 on education and training and Principle 6 on community initiatives and advocacy, to foster women’s educational and professional opportunities and create platforms for women's voices to be heard in the coffee community. Likewise, by targeting gender equality throughout its coffee supply chain, the company exemplifies its commitment to Principle 5, ensuring the meaningful inclusion of women across its enterprise development and supply chain practices. Companies are encouraged to emulate these efforts to drive women’s empowerment and gender equality forward by increasing employees active participation in decision-making within related communities.

How companies can implement the WEPs to drive the needle forward 

By using the WEPs as a guiding framework to integrate gender equality initiative into ESG strategies, the private sector can help drive the needle forward. This includes setting measurable targets, including Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), for initiatives like diversity, inclusion, and gender equality. By setting KPIs focused on gender equality metrics, companies can transparently measure and report on progress, aligning with Principle 7. This type of reporting fosters increased consumer loyalty and trust among stakeholders who share the company's ESG goals. Such communication is vital for shaping initiatives by gathering feedback from internal and external stakeholders and for sharing objectives with employees to facilitate continuous improvement.

Parental leave policies, including maternity and paternity leave, are integral components of fostering a gender equal workplace environment. These policies underscore a commitment to equitable treatment in the workplace, benefiting both employers and employees alike. By prioritizing the establishment and implementation of family-friendly policies, businesses demonstrate their dedication to fair treatment for all employees without discrimination, thereby contributing to gender equality within the workplace as outlined in Principle 2.

Companies can also implement mentorship programmes and professional development initiatives, similar to Nespresso’s AAA Programme, to strategically advance gender equality by providing guidance and support to all employees. Programmes that prioritize education and training for women and foster inclusive environments where women can thrive in leadership embrace Principle 4 and demonstrates a commitment to gender-inclusive development, enhancing workforce equity and empowerment.

Persistent impact is needed to achieve the SDGs

Advancements toward gender equality serve as a catalyst for progress across all 17 SDGs. “Gender equality isn’t just a fundamental human right but a necessary foundation for peace and for a prosperous and sustainable world,” emphasizes Sharon. “It really does hinge on us as a community to drive [SDG 5] forward in order to reach the other [SDGs] faster.” 

Progress towards SDG 5 should be a continuous focus beyond International Women’s Day. By incorporating gender equality initiatives into everyday ESG practices, organizations contribute to sustainable growth and development. Leveraging the WEPs as a guiding framework not only benefits the company's reputation and consumer loyalty, but also drives meaningful societal change and progress towards all the SDGs.



Did you miss this session? You can dive in on this topic by watching the recording here.