RENEW Strategies

Gender Equality: When the Market Demands It, the Private Sector Will Respond

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Laura Davis
| March 3, 2020

I have been asking myself the question, “what will it take to achieve genuine gender equality in companies in sub-Saharan Africa?” After all, we still face massive inequalities in the West. I look eagerly toward the day when we no longer need to bring attention to and advocate for women through wonderful efforts like International Women’s Day. It may take us decades yet, but even in the last few years, sentiments and actions are shifting in what I believe to be the right direction.

As consumers, investors, entrepreneurs, governments, the development community, and as women, we must all take responsibility and align our behaviors and policies to ensure we move the public sentiment in the right direction.

I think we can, and here’s a tangible example of how I can see it working. It upsets me to visit companies in Ethiopia, or anywhere in the world for that matter, where the workers are not using personal safety equipment. When I ask managers or entrepreneurs, they often say, “we provide the equipment, but we can’t make them wear it.” While I know it is difficult to achieve compliance with safety standards across organizations, this comment really frustrates me. First, I believe it starts with leadership. Second, building a culture of compliance and the understanding of “why” something is important is possible. But recently, I noticed something new. I visited one of our portfolio companies that has achieved a host of internationally recognized accreditations. The company is audited annually by related organizations. I also heard from the entrepreneur about the latest string of buyers and their requirements prior to sending a purchase order. I have seen the entrepreneur invest in additional safety features for the building and policies for the work environment. I saw compliance across the company for simple things like earplugs and steel glove usage, and I said to myself...Aha... When the market demands it, the private sector responds. On the issue of safety, I have seen it work. I believe we can do the same thing with gender.

The development community, including Global Affairs Canada and their Feminist Assistance Policy, has set the bar for other stakeholders to follow. They are doing their job. So whether you are an Ethiopian government official, a consumer, an investor or an entrepreneur, let’s do our part. Let’s think about ways we can insist on gender equality and gender-smart policies in the companies you work with. We can do this!

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Photo by Ian Christmann: