What’s all this fuss about the business case for women’s economic empowerment? Through research under the USAID-funded Leveraging Economic Opportunities (LEO) project, we have found that implementers who successfully persuade businesses to adopt inclusive business practices to empower women often focus on “making the business case.” They also stress the importance of being able to speak the language of the private sector.
Effective business cases are informed by a deep understanding of the incentives that drive a company’s behavior – incentives that are often closely linked to enhancing business performance and increasing profits. Yet, with the birth of social enterprises and the private sector’s increased understanding of shared value, the “double bottom line” of social impact and business performance cannot be overlooked as a private sector incentive.
Given this complexity, I think it is essential that agencies seeking to effect change within the private sector understand the particular incentives of the private sector partners with whom they seek to work, how gender plays into these incentives, and how these incentives can be leveraged to benefit women.
In our research, we found six primary kinds of incentives that can help “make the business case” to the private sector to change their practices in a way that is more inclusive of and empowering for women:
- Accessing untapped employee talent: Studies show that increased diversity, including more women in management and executive roles, creates a more collaborative, supportive working environment that promotes innovation.
- Improving supply chain reliability: Promoting access to information, resources, and technology to both men and women can address specific bottlenecks within a supply chain by enhancing productivity, improving product quality, and nurturing a reliable supply.
- Reaching female customers: Globally, women control an estimated $28 trillion in consumer spending, which is larger than the economies of China and India combined.
- Opening new distribution channels: Major corporations have found women to be effective distributors of products and services, especially during the “last mile,” the movement of relatively small quantities of stock to reliable retailers, which helps build market demand.
- Enhancing the brand and reputation of the business: Developing a company’s reputation for valuing women’s work can help boost sales, especially to women.
- Furthering social impact: Businesses are beginning to recognize the far-reaching social and environmental impacts of traditional modes of production. Companies with both strong business acumen and a commitment to doing good can be excellent partners for empowering women.
But we would love to hear more from practitioners: Do you find there are other important incentives that are missing from this list? What else drives the private sector to be more inclusive of women?
Lastly, I want to mention that I have found that – even when there is a business case for firms to empower women and the risks of doing so are manageable – businesses often do not act on it independently. Various barriers – informational, motivational, social/gender norms and others – stand in the way. The work of agencies who promote an inclusive agenda is paramount! Changemakers (whether from government, civil society, associations, communities, or even from business themselves) are often needed to actively present the business case to firms who are new to these opportunities and to help businesses buy down the various perceived risks. Sometimes this conversation simply takes the form of helping them see the longer-term competitive value of including women into their core business and then supporting them to find their own innovative strategies for long-term growth.
The LEO team is looking forward to continuing our exploration of this topic. We want to know how practitioners have made the business case to companies and how this assistance has formed part of a broader strategy for companies to take the inclusive plunge. See more on this topic here.
And we’d love to hear from you – please post a comment below!