Investments in this strategy aim to increase gender equality in the workplace through policies, practices and reporting, resulting in improved working conditions and likely greater workforce participation.  The sections below include an overview of the strategy for achieving desired goals, supporting evidence, core metrics that help measure performance toward goals, and a curated list of resources to support collecting, reporting on, and using data for decision-making.


Dimensions of Impact: WHAT

Investors interested in deploying this strategy should consider the scale of the addressable problem, what positive outcomes might be, and how important the change would be to the people (or planet) experiencing it.

Key questions in this dimension include:

What problem does the investment aim to address? For the target stakeholders experiencing the problem, how important is this change?

Every organization worldwide, regardless of geography, industry, or its employees’ demographic characteristics, builds a workplace environment that positively or negatively influences its staff’s health, well-being, safety, opportunity, and success. The underlying gender patterns, norms, roles, and expectations in any workplace materially influence men, women, and gender and sexual minorities (GSM) differently.

Investments in this strategy aim to increase gender equality in the workplace through policies, practices, and reporting that result in: 

  • improved employee health;
  • better work–life balance;
  • improved conditions for new parents;
  • decreased incidence of harmful sexual violence, which significantly contributes to mental illness and depression;
  • better prevention of gendered occupational safety risks; and
  • increased workforce participation of women and GSM groups.

What is the scale of the problem?

Men globally have disproportionately more work-related accidents and fatal injuries, often due to the socially influenced tendency of men to work in physically demanding posts, take risks, and avoid care for physical injuries (1). Meanwhile, disproportionately more women acquire chronic injuries, illnesses, stress, and psychological burdens, often due to excessive workplace demands on women-dominated functions and comparatively lower influence of female employees in resource allocation (1). Gender-based violence, sexual harassment, coercion, and even human trafficking in the workplace represent ubiquitous and often unaddressed forms of oppression that disproportionately affect women and GSM, partially because they have less autonomy on average in the global workplace and occupy more vulnerable positions in business structures and society at large (2).

While individual businesses and regional and state-level governments are increasingly focusing on implementing best practices around gender-equitable workplace conditions, the number of workplaces worldwide leaving workplace inequities unaddressed is severely high. To illustrate, consider the following:

  • The ILO estimates that only 28.4% of employed women worldwide could access paid maternity leave in the case of pregnancy (3); similarly, fathers in only 78 of 167 countries have a statutory right to paternity leave (4).
  • An estimated 40% to 50% of women and 10% of men living in the European Union have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace (5). Several studies have estimated that at least 25% of women globally have experienced sexual harassment at work; while no industry or occupation is immune, particularly high incidence has been shown in industries that have traditionally been gendered male, in occupations where wages are particularly low, or where workers are vulnerable due to little oversight or physical isolation (6).
  • In a report, the World Bank highlighted evidence that the global labor force participation of women between the ages of 15 and 64 declined over the last two decades from 57% to 55%, with participation as low as 25% in the Middle East and North Africa (7).
  • Gallup estimates that globally, men are nearly twice as likely as women to have full-time jobs. In Southeast Asia, men are more than three times as likely as women to have jobs (8).

A culture of inclusion and proper and equal compensation for all employees regardless of gender or sexual orientation are key aspects of a gender-equitable workplace, as is representation of gender-diverse staff in all positions, including management, leadership, and governance roles. Policies, measurement systems, and the active promotion of women and GSM to more senior roles with higher incomes can encourage these aspects (see: Gender Equitable Pay Strategy and Gender Equitable Governance, Leadership, and Ownership Strategy). Businesses that do not address gender inequities can face financial liabilities and losses in terms of employee turnover, legal action related to sexual harassment or pay inequities, higher use of sick leave, greater absenteeism, and a less productive work environment (6).


Dimensions of Impact: WHO

Investors interested in deploying this strategy should consider whom they want to target, as almost every strategy has a host of potential beneficiaries. While some investors may target women of color living in a particular rural area, others may set targets more broadly, e.g., women. Investors interested in targeting particular populations should focus on strategies that have been shown to benefit those populations.

Key questions in this dimension include:

Who (people, planet, or both) is helped through investments aligned with this Strategic Goal?

This strategy involves investing in companies that have promoted, through their policies, practices, and reporting, workplace environments that acknowledge, identify, and actively work to resolve gender inequities. While women are the main target of this strategy—as with all gender-lens investing strategies—investors should also take measures to consider GSM in their application of a strategy to improve the equity of workplace conditions. Furthermore, investors should pay attention to diversity more broadly, including the intersectionality of discrimination and disadvantage by race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and disability. This strategy benefits individuals including:

Women: Gender inequities in the workplace primarily keep women from full participation, hold back their success compared to men, and expose them to harmful or violent experiences (generally perpetrated by fellow staff or supervisors). Resolving the breadth of gender inequities would materially improve the well-being of women who are already in the workforce and would likely partially decrease the gender imbalance in workforce participation.

Men: Gender-equitable workplaces are safer, more respectful, and more positive environments for all employees. Improved prevention and identification of sexual harassment better protects male victims in the workplace. Broad availability of paternity leave increases male workers’ participation in the care of new children, benefiting both the men themselves and their families as a whole.

Gender and Sexual Minorities (LGBTIQ Groups): Worldwide, GSM experience discrimination that is linked to higher rates of poverty, food insecurity, and unemployment, as documented in multiple countries (9). Both physical violence targeting these groups and the effects of stigma on mental health negatively impact individuals’ health and productivity.

Businesses: Individuals facing discrimination perform differently at work, and the resulting absenteeism, decreased productivity, and higher turnover rates decrease profits for businesses. Investments in gender-equitable workplaces can reduce these inequalities and provide safe, inclusive environments for these groups.

Children and Families: Better work–life balance and improved working conditions for new parents have a direct, positive impact on their children and families. Improved health, decreased incidence of sexual violence (which significantly contributes to mental illness), and improved prevention of gendered occupational safety risks can also benefit employees’ family lives.

What are the geographic attributes of those who are affected?

Contextualized to whichever gender inequities are commonly present in a specific geography, this strategy may be applied anywhere. Workplace gender inequities vary by kind and degree with local sociocultural patterns, gender norms, legislation, and policy.


Dimensions of Impact: CONTRIBUTION

Investors considering investing in a company or portfolio aligned with this strategy should consider whether the effect they want to have compares to what is likely to happen anyway. Is the investment's contribution ‘likely better’ or ‘likely worse’ than what is likely to occur anyway across What, How much and Who?

Key questions in this dimension include:

How can investments in line with this Strategic Goal contribute to outcomes, and are these investments’ effects likely better, worse, or neutral than what would happen otherwise

Applying this strategy will yield a portfolio of investees with increasingly equitable workplace conditions by gender. Broad, aggregate application of this strategy, signaling the importance of implementing gender-equitable workplace conditions to an industry or within a geography, would greatly contribute to gender equality by encouraging enterprises to actively work to address gender inequities in their places of business.

How Much

Dimensions of Impact: HOW MUCH

Investors deploying capital into investments aligned with this strategy should think about how significant the investment's effect might be. What is likely to be the change's breadth, depth, and duration?

Key questions in this dimension include:

How many target stakeholders can experience the outcome through investments aligned with this Strategic Goal?

Inequality in the workplace disproportionately affects women and GSM. Much research has investigated the impact of inequitable working conditions on women’s economic participation. While women comprise approximately half of the global labor force, they are more likely than men to have informal employment, often unprotected by labor laws. The International Labour Organization estimates that 42.5% of the world’s working women are in some form of vulnerable employment (10). Reducing workplace inequities would likely both benefit women already engaged in formal employment and increase all women’s access to formal employment by lowering structural barriers.

How much change can target stakeholders experience through investments aligned with this Strategic Goal?

A McKinsey study suggested that enabling women and men to play the same roles in labor markets worldwide would increase annual gross world product by USD 28 trillion (26%) by 2025 (11), and India alone—where gender equality would have a greater estimated economic impact than in any other country—would add USD 700 billion to its GDP by 2025 (12). Along similar lines, a World Bank study found that, in India, discrimination against LGBTIQ individuals could be costing the country’s economy up to USD 32 billion per year in lost economic output (13). Unleashing these economic benefits alone could greatly reduce poverty, while more comprehensive gender equity in the workplace could greatly improve the physical and mental health of employees and their families.


Dimensions of Impact: RISK

Key questions in this dimension include:

What impact risks do investments aligned with this Strategic Goal run? How can investments mitigate them?

External Risk: Although investments in this strategy can help reduce gender biases in society over time, target beneficiaries will still be impacted by gender biases that are ingrained in law and/or customary practices and which may keep women and GSM from fully and equitably participating in the workforce, even if an organization is actively promoting gender equality. To help mitigate this risk, organizations can advocate for more gender equitable laws through their engagements with governments and by joining collaborative efforts such as Business Action for Women and HERproject. Safety outside the workplace may also impact the ability to fully participate in jobs that are available, in particular in areas affected by conflict or high rates of crime. In this case, organizations can make provisions to ensure access to safe transportation to and from the workplace.  


Execution Risk: There is no one-size-fits-all solution to creating safe and equitable workplaces for everyone. Organizations that fail to appropriately take into account the specific context of their business and needs of their workforce may find their workplace equity policies fail to take hold and/or result in backlash.

What are likely consequences of these impact risk factors?

Failure to appropriately address these risks can limit potential impact organizations are intending to have and, in some cases, create unintended negative consequences for target beneficiaries and others.

Illustrative Investment

MAS Holdings is a Sri Lanka–based apparel firm with a majority female workforce that is known for its exemplary working conditions and emphasis on women’s equality and empowerment. The MAS Women Go Beyond program offers initiatives like training to prevent gender-based violence and sexual harassment, maternal health clinics, and programs to help employees achieve work–life balance (14). This focus has made MAS Holdings a leading supplier for global apparel brands, increasing its ability to retain staff and increasing the proportion of women in the internal talent pool from which managers can be promoted (15).

NCS Holdings Ltd., a catering and camp-management company in Papua New Guinea that is fully owned by Papua New Guinean landowners, employs 680 women in its workforce of 1,300. With support from the International Finance Corporation, NCS has become the first organization based in the Pacific Islands to gain certification by EDGE (Economic Dividends for Gender Equality). Besides actively employing and promoting women in its workforce, the company works systematically to build a culture that values gender equality, implementing policies on sexual harassment in the workplace, leadership development, and family and sexual violence in the workplace. The company has seen reduced absenteeism, improved productivity, and greater staff loyalty (16).

Boston Consulting Group, where 27% of consulting staff worldwide are women, is consistently ranked by Fortune 100 as one of the best companies for women to work (17). Among its many policies and procedures designed to promote gender equality in the workplace, the company implemented flex-time—flexible and part-time working models—to all employees worldwide who have completed one year with the firm. The initiative, fully customizable to individual requirements, allows employees to choose to work at 60% to 80% capacity without affecting their accrual of credit or tenure. This policy is supported by HR and by staffing and career-development processes to avoid bias against flex-time in opportunities, evaluation, and promotion.

Have another illustrative investment we should consider? Let us know!

Draw on Evidence

This mapped evidence shows what outcomes and impacts this strategy can have, based on academic and field research.

Building Healthy and Equitable Workplaces for Men and Women: A Resource for Employers and Worker Representatives World Health Organization, Building Healthy and Equitable Workplaces for Men and Women: A Resource for Employers and Worker Representatives, Protecting Workers' Health Series No. 11, 2011.
Paid Sick Days Benefit Employers, Workers, and the Economy Jessica Milli, PhD., Jenny Xia, and Jisun Min, ""Paid Sick Days Benefit Employers, Workers, and the Economy,"" Institute for Women's Policy Research, Briefing Paper, 2016.
Pay Matters: The Positive Economic Impacts of Paid Family Leave for Families, Businesses and the Public Linda Houser, Ph.D. and Thomas P. Vartanian, Ph.D., "Pay Matters: The Positive Economic Impacts of Paid Family Leave for Families, Businesses and the Public," Center for Women and Work, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, 2012.
The Power of Parity: How Advancing Women's Equality Can Add $12 Trillion to Global Growth McKinsey Global Institute, The Power of Parity: How Advancing Women's Equality Can Add $12 Trillion to Global Growth (2015).
The XX Factor: A Comprehensive Framework for Improving the Lives of Women and Girls The Center for High Impact Philanthropy, University of Pennsylvania. The XX Factor: A Comprehensive Framework for Improving the Lives of Women and Girls (2017).

Each resource is assigned a rating of rigor according to the NESTA Standards of Evidence.

Define Metrics

Core Metrics

This starter set of core metrics — chosen from the IRIS catalog with the input of impact investors who work in this area — indicate performance toward objectives within this strategy. They can help with setting targets, tracking performance, and managing toward success.

Additional Metrics

While the above core metrics provide a starter set of measurements that can show outcomes of a portfolio targeted toward this goal, the additional metrics below — or others from the IRIS catalog — can provide more nuance and depth to understanding your impact.