Few companies make explicit social investments to empower women in emerging nations, but we believe that supporting this goal is good business and good practice for all companies. There are diverse ways in which private-sector enterprises can provide significant economic benefits not only to women and their societies but also to the companies themselves. Businesses benefit from expanding their markets, enhancing the quality or quantity of their present and potential workforce, and maintaining or improving their reputations.
Women in developing economies confront many of the same issues as women in other nations, but they also face several extra obstacles to economic security. In other cases, the issues are obvious—for example, girls receive less food and schooling than boys. In others, they are as complex as the difficulties that women face in many countries in maintaining control over the money they earn (due to rules or long-standing cultural practices that prevent them from having secure access to bank accounts), owning property, or obtaining loans.
Companies who focus their social investments on women in developing economies benefit not only women and their society, but also themselves, according to the study and our prior studies. According to 34% of poll respondents, such investments have already boosted earnings, and 38% expect them to do so in the future.
Women’s Empowerment in Business
Once a company has decided to promote women’s empowerment, it should define how it will help women through its primary activities. Companies can focus on three areas, as we emphasise in BSR’s Business Leadership for an Inclusive Economy program:
1. Increasing the number of decent and empowering jobs for women along the value chain. Good employment creates business success by enabling organisations to attract and retain the finest individuals, laying the groundwork for innovation, operational excellence, and supply stability—all of which are crucial to business success. Ensuring that employees across the entire value chain are healthy, respected, and well-paid results in lower absenteeism, more productivity, and improved worker-management relations.
2. Creating products and services that are tailored to the specific demands of women. Businesses can assist women in improving their living conditions, mobility, and potential by giving them access to goods and services. Product design and development teams at companies should evaluate how their products, services, and technologies can provide both benefits and risks to women. Furthermore, product development teams should employ novel distribution strategies to target women in rural locations.
3. Collaborating with local businesses to incorporate women’s empowerment. Companies based in developing countries that serve as suppliers, contractors, and distributors for global or domestic markets should encourage responsible employment practices such as gender diversity, equal pay for equal work, safe and healthy workplaces free of harassment and discrimination, and advancement opportunities for women. Global corporations, in turn, should collaborate with their suppliers to build capacity at the local level and engage local communities.
Once a company has identified women’s empowerment as a priority and has integrated it into core business activities, the next step is to form strategic partnerships with donors and other stakeholders. Partnerships that combine the strengths of business and government are essential for ensuring that economic progress in developing countries is linked to individual prosperity, gender equality, and shared opportunity.