Gender and Business Performance: Compliance vs. Voluntary Reporting?

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On Tuesday, Calvert mutual funds released a report entitled “Examining the Cracks in the Ceiling: A Survey of Corporate Diversity Practices in the Calvert Social Index." It spells out the business case for gender diversity and family-friendly benefits. Surveys included in the report indicate that:

  • 79% of female consumers surveyed by the Women's Business Enterprise National Council in 2007 stated that "knowing a company purchases from women-owned businesses would compel them to try the product or services from that company, even if they were not a current customer."
  • 81% of female respondents noted that "awareness of a company’s mission to buy from women-owned businesses would moderately or significantly solidify their brand loyalty".
  • "Costs associated with employee turnover can reach 30-50% of the annual salary of entry-level employees, 150% of the annual salary of middle level employees, and up to 400% of the annual salary for specialized, high level employees". 

So why are companies reluctant to publicly release information on their gender work and diversity policies? We know that investors increasingly require a broader spectrum of information in order to better understand companies’ ability to fully manage risks and opportunities in their operations. In its report, Calvert suggests that increased disclosure is needed. “To manage diversity, companies have to be able to measure it.” 

While a mandatory approach (as is being pursued in Sweden) is one way of obtaining information from companies, a needed first step is to provide guidance to companies on how to report on their gender-specific programmes. To this end, IFC - together with the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) - is implementing a project on Gender and Sustainability Reporting. The objective of the project is to help private enterprises worldwide create new opportunities for women, adopt best practices in sustainability reporting, and improve their bottom lines. The 12-month research and consultation project will result in a Gender and Sustainability Reporting Resource Guide.

As mentioned in an earlier post, at IFC (and thanks to the OECD), we started gathering some ideas on what a gender and sustainability reporting framework could look like through a public wiki. We look forward to getting your inputs through both the wiki and the blog and would welcome examples of other innovative projects being run by companies.


Carmen Niethammer

Employment Lead, IFC Gender Secretariat

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