What is the relationship between gender and sustainability, and between gender and corporate sustainability specifically?
According to the United Nations Population Fund:
Empowered women contribute to the health and productivity of whole families and communities and to improved prospects for the next generation. The importance of gender equality is underscored by its inclusion as one of the eight Millennium Development Goals. Gender equality is acknowledged as being a key to achieving the other seven goals.
Yet discrimination against women and girls – including gender-based violence, economic discrimination, reproductive health inequities, and harmful traditional practices – remains the most pervasive and persistent form of inequality.
In respect of global sustainability, an absolutely key factor is that:
The level of education achieved by a woman is also strongly associated with both lower infant mortality and lower fertility.
In other words, if we are to stabilise and/or reduce the global population to sustainable levels, without resort to coercion, there are few better strategies than the education and empowerment of women.
Gender and corporate sustainability
The International Finance Corporation is clear that “Research indicates that companies that focus on environmental and social issues outperform companies that do not.”
There’s a broad social argument that relates the importance of gender equality to corporate sustainability: since there’s no doubt that more gender-equal societies are more prosperous, gender equality is good for business.
The IFC’s Rachel Kyte:
From a business perspective, the benefits of reporting on gender can hardly be underestimated, as it has been shown to help companies in recruiting, retaining, and motivating female employees, allowing them to take full advantage of the change in business mentality. Research also shows that representation of women in management roles is linked to strong corporate financial performance.
Here’s Tim le Roux, the manager for employment equity at Lonmin, looking at the issue as it appears on a South African mine.
Unfortunately, it seems that gender remains a much-underestimated component to sustainability reporting. The IFC says “there is no systematic guidance to help companies report on gender-informed practices.”