Embedding Gender Equality in Your Business’s ESG Activities – Business & Finance

ESG is an important facet of any business, and social issues are a vital element here too.

By Su Duff, CEO, WorkEqual

ESG reporting has been added to the to-do lists of most businesses in recent years.

Referring to reporting on environmental, social and governance issues, this area focuses on the impact of an organisation’s operations and products on the wider world: the environment, public health and safety, and the wellbeing and quality of life of employees and the general public.

There are various reasons why ESG has gained prominence now. Shareholders are more focused on ethical investment. Companies are subject to more intense scrutiny from the media and their consumers and stakeholders. Organisations deemed to be ‘greenwashing’ are quickly blacklisted. And, probably most pertinently of all, there is a legislative incentive to prioritise ESG: in 2023, the EU adopted the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive, which will compel most listed companies in the EU to disclose their ESG activities over the next three years, and to have their ESG reports independently assured.

Even companies that fall outside the scope of this legislation, however, are paying close attention to ESG reporting (or should be). Many are choosing to voluntarily establish ESG strategies and disclose their ESG data. Governments, meanwhile, are developing policies to incentivise more ESG-friendly business and investment practices, with a view to promoting sustainable development and maintaining global competitiveness.

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

While ESG and sustainable development are often equated with climate-related issues, social issues are an important element here too. Yes, ESG covers greenhouse gas emissions, waste management, and sustainability. But it also covers equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI).

It’s this aspect of ESG that is of most relevance to WorkEqual. As a charity that has championed workplace gender equality for over a decade, we were immersed in helping businesses behave ethically and fairly long before EDI and ESG became buzzwords. Our vision is an Ireland where everyone’s skills and potential are recognised by a society that champions workplace equality and fair remuneration. And, since we were established in 2011, we have taken a three-pronged approach to achieving this vision:

  1. Firstly, we help people who are keen to enter or re-enter the world of work to overcome any obstacles they face in doing so. This could involve helping an early school-leaver to prepare a good CV and cover letter. It could be supporting an older woman who left work two decades ago to rebuild her confidence to re-join the labour market. Or it could involve partnering with migrant rights organisations, refugee centres or homelessness charities to support very marginalised groups to access employment opportunities.
  2. Secondly, we work with employers to educate them about gender equality at work. We focus not only on the moral and ethical arguments for gender equality, but also the business case: research consistently shows that more gender-equal companies are more profitable. Executive teams are 21% more likely to have above-average profitability if the team is gender diverse, while top-tier employees are also more inclined to remain in organisations that prioritise diversity and equity [1].
  3. The third and final strand of our work focuses on government engagement and advocacy. We campaigned successfully in recent years for the introduction of Gender Pay Gap reporting in Ireland. We brought a delegation of Irish parliamentarians to Iceland to learn about how things are done in the most gender-equal country in the world. And we continue to work with the Oireachtas All-Party Group on Workplace Gender Equality to ensure politicians are fully aware of the challenges and opportunities faced by both employers and employees in relation to gender equality.

Our work has been slowly paying dividends, with increased public, political and business understanding of the importance of gender equality. In Ireland, the gender pay gap has decreased from 14.4% in 2017 to 9.6% in 2022, while our overall score on EIGE’s Gender Equality Index (a rating of all European countries on their gender equality policies and practices, undertaken annually by the European Institute for Gender Equality) rose from 69.5 to 73 over the same period.

We must not get complacent, however. Women are still under-represented in the Irish workforce; they still carry the burden of family caring duties; and they are still more likely to have a shorter working life (with well-documented consequences for pension entitlements).

In an era of full employment, almost every employer these days is facing recruitment and retention challenges. Imagine how some of these challenges could be solved if we made all workplaces truly equitable, welcoming and inclusive of all?

WorkEqual’s annual fundraising ‘Disco Lunch’ – hosted by the charity’s founder, Sonya Lennon – takes place on 17th May at Roberta’s in Temple Bar, Dublin 2. The event is now sold out, but there are sponsorship and raffle opportunities available. To find out more, or to learn about how WorkEqual can help your workplace, go to www.workequal.ie.

[1] https://www.entrepreneur.com/leadership/73-percent-of-companies-with-gender-equality-practices/372660

About the author: Su Duff is CEO of WorkEqual