The Business Case for Women

Nathalie Gunasekera, 02 March 2016


The three youth employment in the Western Balkans (EYE, MarketMakers &RisiAlbania) all share a common goal: greater participation of women in the workforce. Yet the term gender often resonates little with the projects’ partners who mainly represent the private sector.  For many of them gender is a fluffy, cute-little-donor-imposed-add-on which bears little practical consequences for their businesses. What arguments can the projects make to persuade skeptical businesses that women have a valuable role in the workforce?

In order to redress this, the three market systems development (MSD) projects have started to adopt their regular working strategy to their gender and social equity (GSE) activities. When MSD projects develop interventions it is critical that they understand the interests and incentives of relevant stakeholders: they need to learn the language of business – put themselves into their shoes – in order to make an attractive offer to potential partners. Likewise, when designing GSE activities, the projects have to make an appealing offer to businesses and articulate clearly why it is in their interest to consider GSE. One way to do this is by talking about the business case for women: why greater gender-diversity is good for business.

There is ample evidence for the business case for women. Gender-diversity is known to improve business performance: greater diversity = wider range of viewpoints = greater creativity and innovation = better products = happier customers = greater sales = more $$ for businesses. This is not just a mere-feel-good equation, it is based on facts, with an abundance of studies revealing the same results (please watch the video above). Indeed, if women were fully included in the labor market, USD 28 trillion (or 26%) could be added to global annual GDP by 2025 alone – a truly staggering figure![1]

Promoting the business case for women can be done in various ways. RisiAlbania, for instance, is working  together with large national media in TV, print, radio and online, to promote more positive images of professional women. The features emphasize the unique and valuable contributions women can make in the workforce. Pezana, who is a young female carpentry business owner portrayed in one of the newspaper articles, explains that “women are the ones who mostly use her products at home“. It is therefore critical that her staff understands her customer base in order to design products that sell. Hiring female carpenters who are more likely to understand the customers’ preferences does precisely that. It is in fact indispensable to many industries to capitalize on the „women’s markets“: 70% of all household purchasing decisions in Europe are made by women.[2] What better way to accommodate women’s preferences than by including those who know what that they want?

Women further represent an untapped pool of potential. Globally, more women (56%) than men receive Master’s degrees.[3] Why waste smart and capable resources? With that in mind, EYE Kosovo worked with various businesses to invest in their most valuable asset, human capital. The project co-financed various human resources related investments, such as in-house training, on the condition that the businesses’ recruitment processes pay more attention to attracting female candidates. Considering how important human resource development is for companies, this „offer“ aligned nicely with the businesses’ interests. Arben Avdiu, CEO of the bookkeeping outsourcing company Arizona Partner, states that he was able to higher exceptional female employees that way. „I realized that my company was missing out from having reliable, committed and detail oriented staff”. Similarly, MarketMakers in Bosnia and Herzegovina, is currently trying to find ways to encourage IT companies to put more inclusive recruitment processes in place: increasing the pool of excellence from which candidates are selected means a more competitive workforce.

The youth employment projects are only at the start of what will hopefully be a number of innovative GSE activities. The projects also venture upon a new undertaking when it comes to conjoining GSE and MSD: explicitly identifying stakeholders’ interests and incentives vis-à-vis GSE is hugely relevant yet too often ignored. Indeed, it is essential that they are understood in order to find the “gender leverage” and build a convincing business case for women.

[1] McKinsey Global Institute Report, http://www.mckinsey.com/global-themes/employment-and-growth/how-advancing-womens-equality-can-add-12-trillion-to-global-growth, September 2015.

[2] “The Evidence is growing – there really is a business case for diversity” in Financial Times, http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/4f4b3c8e-d521-11e3-9187-00144feabdc0.html#axzz41DDkg0lc, May 15, 2014.

[3] UNESO Institute for Statistics, http://www.uis.unesco.org/Education/Pages/women-higher-education.aspx, 2014.

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Nathalie Gunasekera

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