IT has long been known that companies with gender-balanced workforces outperform those dominated by men. Having women in leadership positions and throughout an organisation brings a diversity of skills and perspectives. In Pakistan, companies have begun to appreciate this and are increasingly instituting gender diversity policies to better attract female talent to their organisations. At the same time, rules ensuring women are present on the boards of public companies have resulted in more women in leadership positions.

We know that many firms are increasingly looking for ways to promote gender diversity. But we don’t know how widely they are being implemented or how successful they are below board level, where there are some regulatory requirements around gender reporting. A survey conducted in 2021 by the Pakistan Business Council and International Finance Corporation, a member of the World Bank Group, highlighted the fact that only a third of companies polled publicly disclose gender-related employment targets and results. To help change that, PBC and IFC have developed a scorecard that measures firms’ performance regarding their gender diversity policies and how they disclose those policies.

Through this effort we hope to encourage firms to be more transparent about their gender strategies. The lack of publicly disclosed company information on gender-related policies and results has many drawbacks.

First, it deprives investors of the opportunity to evaluate the human capital and employment cycle of the companies they are putting their money into. Second, it means that companies face little pressure to promote gender diversity in their human resources policies since there are few benchmarks in the business community to compare with. Third, it makes it difficult for highly talented people to select where they want to work.

How widely are gender diversity rules being implemented by firms?

There are simple ways to address these challenges. Companies can disclose through their annual reports, their homepages, and their social media channels the types of policies they have in place to promote gender diversity. Such disclosures could include: the percentage of women in their workforce, including in senior positions; their policies around flexible hours, remote work, and in-office childcare; the mentoring opportunities they offer women; and their policies and practices for ensuring pay equity.

Firms can also go further than merely disclosing their policies. They can set gender-specific targets, measure results against these targets, and disclose their results publicly. Such transparency shows their commitment to creating a better, more equal workplace, helping them to attract the best talent. It also demonstrates to investors and consumers a commitment to being an employer of choice.

At a societal level, improving women’s access to job and career opportunities and creating more work- family-friendly workplaces can also propel economic growth. As of 2021, in Pakistan just 21 per cent of women were part of the labour force, compared to 78pc of men, according to World Bank data.

The IMF estimated that the country could boost its gross domestic product by 30pc, if women participated in the workforce at the same level that men currently do in Pakistan. For a country that is striving for growth, this type of gain would be highly significant.

Many companies in Pakistan have signed onto the United Nations Women Empowerment Principles and have been recognised for their gender diversity work, including, awards such as the IFC-PBC Employer of Choice for Gender Diversity Awards. Companies were judged through a scorecard-based approach on gender principles — promoting gender equality at leadership and policy level; ensuring a diverse workforce; eliminating gender pay gaps; creating an optimal workplace culture; and providing coaching and mentoring for women employees.

The scorecard based approach enables companies to identify where they stand and what needs to be improved for disclosure in terms of good practices. It has enabled them to identify and benchmark themselves against their peers. Many countries have developed workplace gender equity strategies. Australia, for example, has a dedicated workplace gender equality strategy with resources for companies identifying the management approach for good practices and methods for disclosure. This has enabled a measured progress in Australia.

Gender parity in the workforce needs to be targeted through initiatives which encourage a positive competition amongst companies. Initiatives like awards are a clear sign that Pakistani companies are beginning to level the playing field for their women employees. But to truly foster equality, firms must continue to improve the reporting of their gender-related policies. To borrow a phrase: disclosure, in this case, is power.

Zeeshan Sheikh is IFC’s country manager for Pakistan and Afghanistan. Ehsan Malik is CEO of the Pakistan Business Council.

Published in Dawn, June 9th, 2022

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