Resource: Gender Equality Mainstreaming for Business Growth and Impact

  • Date Posted: May 2, 2018
  • Authors: Marketlinks Team
  • Document Types: Manual, Manual
  • Donor Type: Non-US Government Agency


Photo of two African women. Photo: MEDA
Photo: MEDA

This resource is from the Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA), an international economic development organization whose mission is to create business solutions to poverty. Click the link below to read the GEM Framework.

Women are key drivers of economic growth, engaging in business as consumers, employees, leaders, suppliers, and community stakeholders. Yet, women are frequently overlooked and underrepresented in the private sector throughout the world. 2017 marked the first year that the Global Gender Gap  an index measuring 144 countries’ gender disparity in health, education, politics, and the workplace  worsened since its inception in 2006 (WEF). Recent events like the #MeToo campaign signal a sea change for the world, including the corporate sphere. This is good news, since $28 trillion could be added to annual global GDP by 2025 if women participated in the economy at the same level as men (McKinsey, 2015). Businesses and investors who seek to understand and respond to the barriers women face will be rewarded  both in terms of growth and impact.

The number of gender-specific business opportunities available to companies is virtually limitless. For example, companies are designing products to address women’s needs, such as through the introduction of female crash test dummies in automaker’s safety tests (Medium, 2015). Businesses with at least one female board member generate compound excess returns of 3.5 percent per annum, as compared to companies with no women on the board (Credit Suisse, 2016). However, female founders receive a paltry USD $1.46 billion compared to $58.2 billion for all-male founder teams (Fortune, 2017) despite the fact that venture capital funds like First Round Capital find female founders’ companies outperform their male counterparts by 63 percent (HBR, 2017). Managers who choose to ignore gender as a material factor for business growth do so at their own risk.

For many organizations, gender mainstreaming can seem daunting. Often the most difficult part is to begin. To support businesses, investors, funders, and capacity builders in exploring how target companies can maximize the returns offered by gender equality, MEDA created the Gender Equality Mainstreaming (GEM) Framework.

The GEM Framework

The GEM Framework is a practical manual and toolkit for assessing gender equality and identifying, implementing. and measuring gender equality mainstreaming strategies within companies. The framework builds upon the environmental, social, and governance (ESG) investment standard by mainstreaming gender across ESG criteria.

Designed for organizations seeking financial and impact returns through investing or providing support to companies, the manual is applicable to a wide range of investors (e.g. private equity funds, government donors, foundations) and capacity builders (e.g. accelerators, technical assistance providers, NGOs). The ultimate aim of the framework is to transform companies to be more gender equitable while supporting business growth and impact.

What is gender?

We use the term "gender" not "women" because equality can only be achieved through engaging women and men in co-creating the future we seek. Whereas biological sex is determined by genetic and anatomical characteristics, gender is an acquired identity that is learned, changes over time, and varies widely within and across cultures (WEPs, 2011). Gender refers to the socially constructed roles, relationships, and expectations of women and men and how these are reinforced by educational, political, economic, and cultural systems (SSIR, 2014). These deeply ingrained gender norms, which perpetuate gender inequality, can be broken through engaging men and women in dialogue and collective action. As a result, the GEM Framework supports progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, in particular contributing to Goal 5, Gender Equality.

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