Gender responsible procurement

By Sanjala Hari

Recently, global movements on non-discrimination, human rights and equality have brought a strong focus on how companies are looking at inclusivity and equality in their workplace. Apart from racial and ethnical diversity, removing any biasness against gender in the workplace has also contributed to having in inclusive team. A few companies are now looking beyond empowering women in their own workforce to also include such considerations during their procurement processes. Gender responsive procurement is now gaining traction, and many see the benefit in enabling purchase of gender-sensitive goods and services and supporting women-owned businesses.


A few companies are now looking beyond empowering women in their own workforce to also include such considerations during their procurement processes.

The UN Women define gender responsive procurement as ‘the sustainable selection of goods, civil works or services that takes into account their impact on gender equality and women’s empowerment’. By enabling gender responsive procurement, companies support the elimination of discrimination against women by treating male and female suppliers on equal terms. Gender responsible procurement aligns with Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5, although there are specific targets related to women and girls in SDG 12 of the SDG 17 goals. Gender-responsive procurement also aligns with one of the seven drivers identified by the UN High-Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment.


Gender responsive procurement practices have had a positive impact on profitability and return on investment.

Women owned businesses today contribute significantly to the global economy. According to Global Entrepreneurship Research Association report in 2014, there were approximately 224 million women entrepreneurs worldwide. Women were also involved in over 80 percent of purchasing decisions worldwide (Dalberg, 2014). According to World Bank, in 2012, 35% of all small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are owned by women. Supporting women entrepreneurs has its own benefits. A study by McKinsey in 2015 confirms that gender-responsive procurement practices have had a positive impact on profitability and return on investment. The report also indicated that if women played an identical role in labour markets to that of men, as much as USD 28 trillion, or 26 percent, could be added to the global annual Gross Domestic Product by 2025.


Despite the various benefits of supporting women entrepreneurs, women owned businesses lag behind businesses owned by men due to various socio-cultural challenges, and/or economic and legal inequalities. Social and cultural expectations and unequal distribution of responsibilities persists for women even after they enter the workforce or start a business. Women also face challenges in access to financial capital, social and human capital. Women face challenges in acquiring collateral to start a business as they might have less access to financing than men in certain geographies. Similarly, some research shows that women find difficulty in establishing business networks and connections. Due to unequal preference to education among genders in certain geographies, women often lack the managerial experience to start a business.


The foundation of public procurement is on the principles of equality, non-discrimination and transparency. Public procurement has a large potential to promote gender responsible procurement. Companies can allow inclusion of gender criteria during assessment of proposals submitted. Companies can evaluate the proposals submitted based on criteria such as whether the project team is gender-balanced, and balanced presence of women and men in decision-making positions.

Companies can expand their network and business relationships to target businesses that are primarily women-owned

Companies can expand their network and business relationships to target businesses that are primarily women-owned – which could include small and medium size businesses run by women entrepreneurs. This would also include companies to fit technical, financial and other prequalification and qualification requirements based on the size and complexity of the opportunities, such that women-owned SMEs are not blindly eliminated during the procurement process. For unsuccessful bidders, providing a useful feedback on their strengths and weaknesses can help provide opportunities for improvement, especially for women owned businesses.

For businesses looking to diversify their overall supply chain and possibly reduce their spending on suppliers, procuring from women owned business could be the answer. Similarly, incorporating gender sensitive requirements during procurement process and engagements can not only support your company’s commitment towards gender equality, but also help companies mitigate any risks on gender discrimination or abuses in supplier operations.

Reach out to us to find out more about how you can include gender considerations in your procurement processes. More on our supply chain services .

Release of the World Economic Forum’s ‘The Global Gender Gap Report’ 2016

The Global Gender Gap

The World Economic Forum’s latest report on the Global Gender Gap was released on 26th October 2016, featuring a host of new insights into the state of gender equality across the world. The report has been released annually since 2006 with the aim “to create global awareness of the challenges posed by gender gap and the opportunities created by reducing them.”[1] Covering over 144 countries, the report utilises over a decade’s worth of data to paint a rich picture of the divides between men and women. The report focuses on four key areas deemed to be most important to the gender divide:

  • Health and survival – outcomes on life expectancy and sex ratio
  • Educational attainment – access to basic and higher level education
  • Economic participation and opportunity – equality of salaries, participation levels and access to high-skilled employment
  • Political empowerment – representation in decision-making institutions


By assessing these four areas, the index measures gender equality and a helps to determine a country’s progress over time. Ultimately, the report aims to develop a clear picture of how countries are dividing resources and opportunities between men and women, regardless of the relative levels of these resources.


The main observations from the 2016 report on the 4 key areas can be summarised as follows:

  • Educational attainment – the gender gap in this area has closed to 95%, meaning an increase of nearly 1% since 2015 and its highest recorded value. The World Economic Forum predicts that that educational parity can be achieved within just 10 years.
  • Health and survival – this area has also improved in 2016, with the gap closing to 96%. It has been impossible to predict when this gap might fully close.
  • Economic participation – the economic gap has widened last year and now only 59% of the gap is closed. The Forum forecasts that equality in this area will not be achieved until 2196.
  • Political empowerment – this area is showing a slow but steady improvement. Although the cap is only 23% closed at the moment, it has narrowed by 9% in the last decade. It is predicted that this will be fully closed before the end of the century.

The report also reveals a number of other important trends. Women around the world are currently earning around half of what men earn despite the fact they are working longer hours. Women’s participation in the labour force is also currently only at 54% (against 81% for men); this is linked to the recognition that only 4 countries are recorded as having an equal number of male and female legislators, senior officials and managers. Nevertheless, the gaps in gender equality are improving slowly but surely each year. With current trends, the Forum predicts that the overall global gender gap can be closed in 83 years across the 107 countries covered since its inception.


And for Singapore? In their 2016 report Singapore ranks at #55 in the global ranking and #5 in the East Asia and the Pacific table. The weakest areas stand out as educational attainment, health & survival and political empowerment, with Singapore not ranking higher than 95 globally in each of these areas. Yet in terms of economic participation and opportunity, Singapore stands strongly at #17. Singapore boasts some of the highest levels of wage equality measured by the Forum. However, the results point to a general separation of women in both the educational and political spheres, and a remarkably low female-to-male birth ratio (0.935) compared to global averages. Meanwhile, the wider Asia region has shown the fastest global rate of change and gap reduction, with a closing of the gender gap in the region projected within 46 years.


For more information and insight, The Global Gender Gap Report can be accessed here:

[1] The Global Gender Gap Report 2016 pg. 3 –

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: