Gender Equality and Sustainable Development Goals

The UN Sustainable Development Goals are a useful high-level framework for understanding the breadth of issues facing our planet. The deadline for the goals is 2030, so the next decade is time for both the private and public sector to make changes to their operating models to support the outcomes of these goals.  

Board members and senior leaders are likely to have gender equality or diversity & inclusion policies already in place. They may even have taken decisive action to ensure a gender-balanced board of directors or senior management team is employed.

Both developed and developing countries still have great lengths to go in achieving gender equality with some of the appalling statistics noted by the UN when it comes to how women and girls are treated poorly around the world.

When it comes to reviewing a firm’s purpose and strategy, building a more diverse and inclusive organisation is one of a minimum expectation of any organisation wanting to make a positive social impact and help support the UN Sustainable Development Goal outcomes in 2030.

Goal 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls

  • 5.1 End all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere
  • 5.2 Eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation
  • 5.3 Eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation
  • 5.4 Recognize and value unpaid care and domestic work through the provision of public services, infrastructure and social protection policies and the promotion of shared responsibility within the household and the family as nationally appropriate
  • 5.5 Ensure women’s full and active participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decisionmaking in political, economic and public life
  • 5.6 Ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights as agreed following the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development and the Beijing Platform for Action and the outcome documents of their review conferences
  • 5. A Undertake reforms to give women equal rights to economic resources, as well as access to ownership and control over land and other forms of property, financial services, inheritance and natural resources, following national laws
  • 5.B Enhance the use of enabling technology, in particular information and communications technology, to promote the empowerment of women
  • 5.C Adopt and strengthen sound policies and enforceable legislation for the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls at all levels


Board and senior executive considerations

When a business wants to assess how its current operating model either helps or hinders the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, having female directors and female senior executives driving or heavily involved in the process would be an obvious consideration.

If there are no women currently on the board of directors or on the senior leadership team, this will be a significant problem with almost any stakeholders. Institutional investors who care deeply about the firm’s reducing ESG risk will undoubtedly call it out.

It’s no longer credible to argue that there isn’t a “pipeline” or “suitably qualified” available. There are large numbers of highly qualified women willing and able to work in these roles, and there’s no reason why they can’t be working for your organisation.

When it comes to assessing the organisation’s social impact, ensuring that there is a balanced consideration of potential sustainability initiatives is critical. For example, some organisations that have pay equity issues may need to radically rethink their operating model to be able to deliver a better outcome for their people.

Asset managers who currently work on ESG issues need to assess their operating models too: what is the compensation profile at their organisation? How is the bonus pool distributed? Are gender-diverse people treated fairly? Are there any red flags around hiring processes such as previous salary disclosure?

When it comes to supporting Goal 5, the organisation can consider how it can make a positive impact on women and girls in developing countries. There may be scholarship initiatives, knowledge-sharing programmes, or supply chain diversification initiatives that could help improve the wellbeing of women entrepreneurs.

Some organisations may revisit their purpose and find that because their target markets or primary labour pools are predominantly female, they may want to pivot their operating model to support women-owned businesses and redesign their entire value chain to promote greater gender equality.

Several specialist consulting firms can assist in this area to develop a policy, supporting processes and frameworks and provide assurance that positive gender equality outcomes are in the operating model of the business.

Increasingly, ethical considerations during tender processes mean that firms that are not living what they claim to in their marketing materials when it comes to gender equality may lose out on substantial new revenue. They may not make it past the first round of submissions, or the tenderer may not even invite them to tender for new business.

The business case for incorporating gender equality outcomes into your business’s operating model is quite straightforward. Revenue protection, cost reduction, cost avoidance, and new revenue opportunities are all categories of financial benefit that accrue to firms who take this issue seriously.

The development of policies that enable people to bring themselves to work and attain a reasonable work-life balance further enhance these goals. During reporting on these initiatives, there is no excuse for firms in developed countries not to be able to make a sizeable impact on many of these UN Sustainable Development Goals when many of the actions required on their part are merely becoming the minimum level that the community expects from them as corporate citizens.

Through thinking critically about the entire operating model of a business, and exploring in-depth how the strategy of a firm can be executed creatively, there are many avenues for a firm to adjust its operating model at the implementation layer that changes how its people, processes and systems work to make a positive social impact and deliver value to a broad group of stakeholders around the world, not just its shareholders.