Putting gender on the agenda for sustainability reporting: some thoughts

By Supriti Bezbaruah.

Gender equality is not just the right thing to do, it also makes good business sense: gender diversity improves the performance of organisations. For example, a study by McKinsey & Company in 2013 found that companies with higher representation of women on executive committees had 47 percent higher return on equity (ROE) on average.

One of the first steps towards gender equality should be gender reporting, for companies to get a clear picture of where they currently stand. Even for well-meaning companies, gender reporting uncovers unconscious biases in operating practices. Companies increasingly recognise the need for gender reporting, but they struggle to convert this into practice. The main challenge companies face in producing meaningful gender reports is deciding what, and how much, to report.
At present, all companies following the Global Reporting Initiative’s (GRI) G4 guidelines should report the total workforce and total number of employees by gender (G4-10). Other than this, only those gender-related indicators that are most material (or most relevant) to the company need to be reported. The gender composition of the workforce provides only a partial picture of gender equality, so companies should also consider including the following indicators and information:

Ratio of basic salary and remuneration of women to men by employment category, by significant locations of operations (G4-LA13): since many countries, including Singapore, India and China have ratified the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) Equal Remuneration Convention, 1951 (no 100).
Composition of governance bodies and breakdown of employees per employee category by gender (G4-38 and G4-LA12): to indicate whether women are adequately represented at all levels of the company, and are not just clustered at the junior levels.
Total number and rates of new employee hires and employee turnover by gender (G4-LA1): to demonstrate the company’s commitment to recruiting women; and to assess if women drop out of the workforce in greater numbers than men as they face pressures to balance family with work.
Details about parental leave, including number of employees who took parental leave, and the number who returned to work after parental leave ended, by gender (G4-LA3)
Details of company provision of flexi-work arrangements: to display the employer’s commitment to enable employees to balance work and family commitments.
Average hours of training per year per employee, by gender (G4-LA9): as lack of adequate training can prevent women entering senior management levels.
Gender equality issues can also extend beyond the workplace. For instance, for electronics manufacturing companies or financial companies with call centres located in developing countries, the majority of workers at the end of their supply chain are usually women. Companies are encouraged to report on how they promote gender equality in their supply chains, for example, through incorporating gender criteria into their procurement policies.

In presenting this information, companies, especially multinational companies (MNCs) must consider the impact of the context, sectoral and cultural in which they operate. It may be helpful for companies to supplement the numerical indicators with some explanatory context. For example, to explain the gender distribution of their employees, Marquard and Bahls note that the oil and energy sector is male-dominated. To take another example, a company in Japan may have few female employees, because of strong traditional views on women, reflected in the low female participation in the labour force in general. Similarly, in India, research shows that the under-representation of women in sales positions in banking was less due to discriminatory conduct by the bank, but because family constraints on travel and long hours prevented women from taking up such positions. Cultural expectations to prioritise family over career can also be used to explain the under-representation of women in senior management positions in Asia.

But, culture should not be used as an excuse for companies to avoid addressing gender issues in the workplace. As the world becomes increasingly globalised, companies can, through actively endorsing gender equality, change mindsets and challenge biases. Consistent and comprehensive gender reporting will serve as a continual reminder of the progress that still needs to be made.
This article provides a review of the basic elements of gender reporting. In the next article, we will discuss ways in which companies can manage unconscious bias in the workplace.

Gender reporting: a checklist for companies
• Assess how gender may be relevant for each material aspect identified: even if gender is not explicitly mentioned, is there any way by which the company’s policy affects men and women differently, as employees, clients, suppliers or consumers? For example, a real estate company that includes occupational health and safety among its material issues may focus on issues such as work-related injuries and fatalities. However, if the gender aspect is included, work-related safety will also include issues such as: are the factory/construction grounds adequately well-lit at night for female employees or visitors to safely walk around? Are there separate female and male toilets? Another example is when a marketing company may be advertising its products, it needs to consider how this influences its consumers. Does the advertising and marketing consider how women are portrayed? Is this done in a culturally sensitive manner?

• Analyse the context in which the company operates: Is the sector male or female dominated? Are there local cultural biases that hamper women’s career advancement?

• Identify how the company is complying with gender-related national and international legislation: Does the country in which the company operates have legislation on parental leave or discrimination? What international conventions have been ratified by the country in which the company is based?

• For multi-country operations, decide how to report performance: does the company want to provide overall global data on gender, or a breakdown by region/country?

• Make a list of the agreements the company has signed, for example, the Women’s Empowerment Principles, or the Employer’s Pledge for the Tripartite Alliance for Fair & Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP) in Singapore: what are the obligations under these agreements?

Note: Some of these guidelines are based on the following report: UN Women and UN Global Compact. 2014. Women’s Empowerment Principles: Reporting on Progress. Available online at: http://weprinciples.org/files/attachments/WEPs_Reporting_Guidance_G4_Sept2014pdf.pdf