How Corporate India contributes to womens economic empowerment through CSR and business practices

How Corporate India contributes to womens economic empowerment  through CSR and business practices

Samhita's recent report, supported by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), highlights initiatives by corporates for women′s economic empowerment.

India is one of the first countries in the world to formalise the role of corporate social responsibility (CSR) in nation building through Section 135 of Companies Act, 2013, which mandates eligible companies to spend 2 per cent of their net profits on social development. Schedule VII of the Act defines 'promoting gender equality and empowering women' as a key cause area for corporate investment.

The reason for this is clear: despite significant strides in economic growth and social development, India ranks 127 out of 189 countries on the gender inequality index as of 2017. Our falling female labour force participation rate has been the subject of international discussion for years, having declined from 34.1 per cent in 1999-00 to 27.2 per cent in 2011-12.

According to McKinsey Global Institute, progress towards gender parity in economic participation could boost India's GDP by $0.7 trillion (16 per cent) by 2025, not to mention the human and social gains that are incalculable and invaluable.

The private sector is a key partner to India's achievement of this goal, and can use the Responsible Citizenship Continuum (RCC) shown below to conceive of the various modes through which they engage women, and thereby enable more conscious decision-making across the board: Our upcoming report presents findings from a comprehensive mapping of the CSR and business practices of India's largest companies on the BSE 100 Index.

Women's economic empowerment through CSR

With 72 per cent of BSE 100 companies reporting CSR programs for promoting women's economic empowerment , there is an obvious interest in and commitment to this issue. However, the quantum of spending is relatively low: BSE 100 companies reported a cumulative expenditure of Rs 250.62 crore on women's economic empowerment in FY 2017-18, amounting to around 8 per cent of overall CSR expenditure on average.

Beyond the scale of investment, our research revealed a need for companies to take a more comprehensive approach to addressing the gaps in a woman's journey toward economic empowerment. We mapped companies' CSR interventions across the life cycle - from those that 'Prepare' women for work, to those that enable them to 'Enter' the workforce, and eventually 'Grow and Sustain' themselves, with all three stages underpinned by a set of 'Enablers'.

Our analysis shows that CSR support is currently concentrated in the Prepare and Enter stages of a woman's journey towards economic empowerment, with less emphasis on the Grow & Sustain stage and on the Enablers that are pivotal to the realisation of the impact of all other interventions along the way.

Of the 72 companies investing in women's economic empowerment, the majority - 61 per cent - had interventions only in one or two components of the life cycle, indicating that companies were working in siloes and not addressing the inflection periods when women are most at risk of dropping out of the workforce.

While interventions like vocational skills training and the formation or strengthening of Self-Help Groups (SHGs) (reported by 68 per cent and 42 per cent of companies respectively), were very popular, programs that promote key enablers such as access to digital and financial literacy, saw much less support with less than 15 per cent of companies supporting these. Similarly, only 22 per cent of companies supported life skills education that aims to improve a woman's self-esteem and agency. These capabilities are recognised as 21st century skills that can equip women to stay relevant and accessible as the landscape and nature of work changes to take on the characteristics of a gig economy. These skills are also important for women to be capable of translating their ability to earn an income into empowerment, where they have a say in decisions that matter to them.

Women's economic empowerment through business practices

Our research showed that though there are still many obstacles to equality, corporate India is starting to show greater sensitivity to the fact that companies need to recognise women as legitimate employees, supply chain members, and customer segments.

Female representation in the permanent workforce of BSE 100 companies was largely low: women make up less than 10 per cent of the permanent workforce for the majority of BSE 100 companies. However, the design and institution of gender-inclusive policies, including a travel policy for the child and a designated caregiver for new mothers, flexible working, and safe accommodation vetting, has enabled historically male-dominated sectors such as manufacturing to see improved female representation in the permanent workforce.

Companies are increasingly recognising both the humanitarian and business case for fostering for inclusive supply chains: Walmart, Hindustan Unilever and Mars Inc. have seen a large degree of success through supporting rural women with the entrepreneurship training and resources to retail their products to otherwise inaccessible markets.

Finally, with women increasingly asserting their preferences in purchasing decisions and income levels rising both in urban and rural India, companies stand to gain by developing products and services tailored to women, while being careful not to unnecessarily gender-wash products and impose the pink tax on the emerging customer segment.

13 to 30 - our approach to addressing the gaps in the ecosystem

In response to the major gaps identified in the empowerment life cycle, Samhita has designed the 13 to 30 approach to support the holistic empowerment of women in India.

Bartosz Hadyniak

13 to 30 will bring together various stakeholders to amplify existing initiatives and resources to deliver comprehensive support to women. It has been designed keeping in mind certain core principles - adopting a women-centric approach, working with women's gatekeepers and influencers (including employers) to create the right environment, supporting models that build a woman's agency, and focusing on the role of boys and men in transforming the way society values women.

Early successes for 13 to 30 include partnerships with government agencies such as Mahila Arthik Vikas Mahamandal (MAVIM) and Maharashtra State Rural Livelihoods Mission (MSRLM) to amplify the impact of their on-going initiatives focused on women, and potential partnerships with a philanthropist to empower young women in Maharashtra and a company to empower women factory workers in Gujarat.

There is increasing international consensus that without a sustained global effort towards gender equality, none of the other 16 SDGs will be achieved, and that the private sector is key to this achievement. However, the private sector also needs support from other actors - foundations, multilateral agencies and civil society - all of whom play a role in bridging the gap.

Through 13 to 30, Samhita's mission is to facilitate effective and impactful collaboration between companies and the rest of the development ecosystem to work towards a more gender equitable India.

Priya Naik is Founder & CEO of Samhita Social Ventures. Ragini Menon is a Research & Knowledge Associate at Samhita.

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