Why data holds the key for improving gender equality in the supply chain

Women are an integral part of global supply chains, making up nearly half (43%) of the workforce. However, women continue to face discrimination in the workplace, which can affect everything from pay to promotions and senior leadership attainment.

Our recent research found that, globally, women fill just 31% of supervisor roles and only 27% of management positions.

Gender equality is one of the United Nations’ global Sustainable Development Goals (SDG 5) and businesses have a crucial part to play in achieving it. To do so, businesses should use all the tools at their disposal to drive greater gender equality.

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Businesses that seek to drive greater equality across their operations and supply chains can also access the associated benefits. For example, research has shown that more gender-diverse companies are 21% more likely to experience above-average profitability. Workforces that enjoy greater diversity, and consequently have varied perspectives and approaches, are likely to make better business decisions. Companies that make the effort to support all workers, and particularly women, can benefit from the resilience of a healthy, skilled workforce. 

It’s all about the data

Better collection and use of data, especially when disaggregated by gender, underpins every effort to improve equality at work. Organisations should look to split and segment their data in this way as much as possible, to capture insights that provide a robust picture of women's working situations.

This insight enables businesses to prioritise where to focus their efforts to drive change, particularly the industries with the highest proportions of female workers, or where inequalities are highest.

Key areas businesses should capture gender-disaggregated data on include:

  • Management and supervisor positions: To understand gender disparities in leadership roles.
  • Wages: To analyse gender pay gaps.
  • Contract types: To understand whether female workers are more likely to be in insecure employment, e.g. on temporary or zero-hours contracts.
  • Absence rates: To investigate whether there are differences between male and female workers’ absence rates, due to underlying workplace issues.
  • Worker committees: To understand whether women are adequately represented on worker committees and whether worker committee members reflect the demographics of the wider workforce.

Conducting high-level risk assessments is also a useful way to identify the sectors and countries where female workers are at the greatest risk of discrimination and exploitation.

Useful insight

The workplace roles available to women are strongly influenced by long-held gender stereotypes and cultural perceptions of men and women’s work, for example that men are better suited to leadership. Women are less likely to reach senior positions, with our data finding that only 38% of promotions last year were given to women.

These stereotypes and the gender gaps in leadership roles contribute to power imbalances between men and women at work, which make women more vulnerable to violence and harassment in the workplace.

Data enables us to see exactly where these power imbalances exist and can highlight where the risks of gender-based harassment are highest within an organisation or supply chain. Presenting business leaders with supporting data that illuminates these issues provides not just insight, but also a nudge to take action.

Next steps

Once data separated by gender has been collected, businesses can build a true picture of gender diversity, equality and inclusion across their organisation and supply network.

Organisations can then identify their priority focus, developing their approach and targets to improve equality in these areas. Activities could include anything from new employment policies or training for suppliers to supporting on-site creches at worksites. Businesses can also enlist support for their efforts by engaging with a relevant consultancy firm, such as BSR.

Continuing to gather gender-disaggregated data then allows organisations to measure the impact of their actions and progress towards gender equality targets. For example, businesses can see whether absence rates among female workers move closer to that of male workers, or whether the percentage of female supervisors increases.

It’s only by having this data that businesses can take informed action towards gender equality. In using this data effectively, organisations can help to develop more equal workplaces that help to boost women’s economic empowerment, bring business benefits and create fairer environments for all.

By Jessica McGoverne, director of policy and corporate affairs, Sedex