Skip to content

Women in business: inclusion can unlock trillions of dollars of value

B20 women in business

Tanuj Kapilashrami Chief Strategy & Talent Officer

29 Oct 2020

Home > News > Women in business: inclusion can unlock trillions of dollars of value

At Standard Chartered, we have a clear purpose to drive commerce and prosperity for our clients and communities. We know the only way we will be successful in doing that is through our unique diversity. But diversity alone isn’t enough. Creating an inclusive environment where people can innovate together – generate new ideas, solve problems, continuously improve and every so often create a step change – will contribute to our success.

That’s why I’m really proud we’re taking a leading role and co-chairing the Women in Business Action Council – the flagship taskforce of the B20 – advocating along with other members, a much-needed cultural transformation to drive equal opportunities for all and develop increased ways to advance gender representation in the world’s largest economies, drawing on some of our own practical experience.

We recognise our responsibility to effect broader change in our communities and that by including women to succeed in all areas of economic activity we will achieve positive outcomes, from boosting productivity and economic diversification to increasing participation in gainful employment and economic decision making.

Across the world, progress has been made, but the step change we need to see has not yet been fulfilled. Gender gaps still exist – particularly in the areas of leadership, entrepreneurship, employment, professional growth and advancement – and there is much to be gained for all of us by closing those gaps.

Women in businessInclusion leads to innovation

We’ve long understood the importance of diversity, but the focus has been shifting away from quotas to measuring true inclusion in organisations – one that embraces different perspectives, skills, experience, ways of working and leadership styles. Only then can we truly unlock the innovative ideas that diversity gifts us and solve the world’s fastest-growing problems.

We’ve been working with the B20 to develop policy recommendations to help bring about the real change we need to see made globally and along with the UN Sustainable Development Goals, help us to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all.

The release of the B20 report is very timely, as we all deal with the unique challenges the prolonged COVID-19 pandemic brings us, and the disproportionate impact it is having on women. Women are playing an essential role in fighting the pandemic – according to the World Health Organisation, women make up 70 per cent of global healthcare workers and 76 per cent of unpaid caregivers – and many are opting out of the workforce to focus on childcare. We fear that this may blunt the progress made on gender equality in business and leadership and slow the crucial role women play in global growth.

The key recommendations of the report fall into three categories: levelling the playing field, boosting female entrepreneurship, and amplifying synergies. We want to support practical actions that empower women in the workplace and the communities we operate – and openly share ideas and examples of how we can all play a role.

When we build inclusive and diverse cultures, workplaces and communities, everybody benefits and thrives

Levelling the playing field

According to the International Labour Organization, global GDP could increase by up to $5.8 trillion, if gender gaps can be closed. To close those gaps, we need to enable the participation of women in the labour market at all levels, whether grassroots entrepreneurs or high-level executives, and particularly in traditionally male-dominated fields like financial services. To encourage participation, we must mitigate gender bias, both conscious and unconscious.

It’s critical that we unlock the advancement and full leadership potential of women by driving reforms, fostering an inclusive environment, ensuring fair and equal pay and encouraging new ways of flexible working that benefit all.

We must be fair in recognising the ability, performance and potential of everyone. That’s why in 2018, we launched our Fair Pay Charter, which sets our expectations and enables us to track our efforts including ensuring all our people are paid a living wage – making additional reward interventions in markets that have experienced major shifts in economic conditions and cost of living and providing core benefits in all markets.

In addition, we have a global flexible working policy, and a global standard for parental leave, both of which are market-leading in many of our markets. The pandemic has shown us we can successfully work with a level of flexibility that would have been unthinkable even eight months ago. We are taking the many positive learnings and opportunities to be had, listening to our colleagues and introducing a hybrid approach: combining working together in person with greater flexibility in when and where our people choose to work.

Women in businessBoosting female entrepreneurship

According to a 2019 report by Silicon Valley Bank, just 28 per cent of start-ups are founded by women, and we know that gender diversity on the boards of start-ups is severely lacking.

To help address this we have launched our Women in Tech incubators in several markets, supporting female-led entrepreneurial teams with training, mentorship, and seed funding for their ventures.

In addition, using our intrapreneurs programme (unlocking innovation internally) we set a challenge to find new innovative ideas and business models specifically designed for women (Venus Challenge). We are using this approach for tacking many other key challenges- such as climate and sustainability.

We know that improving access to expertise and finance for women-owned/led enterprises is essential, so we’ve launched products such as WoWnita, in Malaysia, which provides working capital finance loans and mentoring to female entrepreneurs; or our Female Client Value Proposition in China, which identifies needs specific to women and provides tailor-made products to support them. We’ve also launched a supplier diversity strategy, which aims to introduce the best inclusive practices across our supply chains, including focusing on women-owned small/micro businesses and to create economic opportunities for vulnerable youth, especially girls, we have launched our Futuremakers programme, which aims to raise $50 million by 2023.

Amplify synergies

As the B20 report highlights, previous attempts to foster real change in the arena of gender equality have either not gone far enough, or not been adopted strongly enough. There is a greater need to include the views of the people we are trying to support when creating policy – in this case, women from a cross-section of society. By doing that we can power real change, whether that be implementing new policies, or adjusting existing ones.

There several barriers that exist for organisations to advance gender equality ranging from structural issues, to practical and cultural. We recognise that we are not alone in facing the challenges towards improving the representation of women in the labour force and in in leadership positions, and that this is a global issue. Common barriers include:

To underpin our commitment to gender equality across the industry and develop inclusive leaders with greater accountability, we developed a programme: Men Advocating Real Change (MARC).
The MARC Leaders workshop is a unique programme that enables senior leaders to sharpen their awareness of inequality, develop critical inclusive leadership strategies and hone skills to make a lasting impact. This programme has been run in UK, Singapore and India – in addition to internal colleagues we have engaged over 100 representatives from our client organisations creating a cross-company network to enhance leadership effectiveness and discuss ways to effect change in their respective organisations.

Gender diversity is good for business

In our leading role as co-chairs of the Women in Business Action Council, our aim is to right some of the wrongs that still perpetuate in our society and to continually learn from our practical experiences. Given our unique presence in 59 markets, of which 16 are G20 economies, we encourage our G20 leaders to adopt these recommendations.

Let’s work together so progress can be made internationally and bring us closer to what we all intuitively know to be true, and that research supports: when we build inclusive and diverse cultures, workplaces, and communities, everybody benefits and thrives.

To read the B20 policy report in full, click here.