This post was written in collaboration with the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security.
The importance of women’s empowerment and gender equality to the private sector is increasingly well recognized. The UNSG HLP on Women’s Economic Empowerment highlighted a range of benefits for corporate profits as well as broader competitiveness and economic growth.
These gains can come about through specific efforts of companies, as documented by Bloomberg’s Gender-Equality Index, which has become the gold seal for companies around the world to publicly demonstrate their commitment to equality and advancing women in the workplace.
At the same time, a supportive national and policy environment is critical. This is captured by the new 2019 Women, Peace, and Security Index, published by the Georgetown Institute of Women Peace and Security in partnership with the Peace Research Institute of Oslo, ranks 167 countries. It draws on recognized international data sources to provide a comprehensive measure of women’s wellbeing and their empowerment in homes, communities, and societies more broadly.
The WPS Index measures the three broad dimensions of well-being – inclusion, justice and security:
Inclusion has multiple aspects -- economic, social, and political
Justice captures both formal and informal discrimination
Security is measured at the family, community, and societal levels
A mapping against the WEF’s Global Competitiveness Index (GCI) shows a striking correlation, and suggests major synergies between women’s wellbeing and competitiveness, as shown in Figure 1. (The GCI is the product of 103 individual indicators, derived from both objective data and executive opinion surveys, that are organized into 12 ‘pillars’: ranging from institutions, infrastructure and ICT adoption to macroeconomic stability, the financial system and business dynamism.)
At the same time, the WPS Index captures shortfalls that are not evident in the GCI. For example, for adults’ mean years of schooling, Kenya’s national average is around 8, but only 6 for women; likewise in Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Tanzania, the GCI uses the national average of 7, but for women the attainment is only around 5. These comparisons highlight implications for national productivity and competitiveness that are concealed by national averages.
The most recent WPS Index report shows how the index matters to broader aspects of development that also have direct relevance to the private sector. For example:
- Cross country empirical analysis shows that higher levels of gender inequality in education, financial inclusion, and employment, as well as higher levels of intimate partner violence and adolescent fertility, are significantly correlated with greater risks of violent conflict in the society, which in turn disrupts production and profits in the economy.
- The WPS Index is correlated with the likelihood that youth (aged 15-24) are not in education, work, or training – highlighting the worrying fact that globally, 30 percent of young women, compared to 13 percent of young men, are not in education, work, or training. This does not augur well for the future, especially since women’s employment rates have stagnated or declined in all regions except Sub-Saharan Africa: today, globally, only about 49 percent of the world’s women are in paid work, compared to 79 percent of men.
Advancing women’s inclusion in paid work holds enormous potential for increased productivity, innovation, and economic growth. Recent data from PricewaterhouseCoopers suggests that simply increasing the number of women in paid work could boost US GDP by $1,750 billion. The United Nations Economic and Social Council also finds that violence against women costs the global economy around $12 trillion annually, due to missed promotions and productivity losses from a lack of women’s wellbeing. On these important fronts, as well as advancing financial inclusion and changing norms around work and working in partnership with governments and civil society more broadly, the private sector has a critical role to play.
A growing number of private firms are investing in women’s empowerment both internally and externally, including large multinational companies. As highlighted in the recent Responsible Business Conduct in G7 Countries, published by UN Women, L’Oréal is one example which recently expanded maternity and paternity leave and is partnering with the Harvard Kennedy School to provide leadership and negotiation training to women as part of the company’s Gender Equity Action Plan launched in 2013, after it was revealed that 70 percent of L’Oréal’s workforce was female while 70 percent of leadership was male. Proctor & Gamble has committed to gender parity across all company levels, and to annually sourcing $100 million from women-owned businesses in order to build the capacity of female entrepreneurs and empower women financially.
Looking ahead, there is hope that the WPS Index will prove to be a useful tool for the private sector to assess achievements as well as injustice at the national level. The published rankings could be leveraged to hold decision-makers accountable, and this guide outlines some ways to use the results as a catalyst to advance gender equality.