April 9, 2012, by ICCSR

The Business of Advocating for Gender Equality

Not content with just one publication on gender and CSR (see our other blog, Women Mean Business), last month saw the release of another collaboration, this time with Oxfam. ‘Gender Equality: It’s you business’ is number seven in Oxfam International’s Briefings for Business series. It offers practical advice on achieving gender equality in four key areas of business: within companies; in the supply chain; when purchasing food commodities and when providing goods and services in developing economies. I thought I’d share with you my reflections of working on the project.

I started work on the report in June 2010, as an intern researcher and MA student here at the ICCSR. Balancing researching and writing for a high-visibility publication whilst finishing my dissertation wasn’t easy! Nonetheless, the experience was great- I met many interesting people working in the area, interviewed individuals for my dissertation and crucially, I think, crystallised my passion for women’s rights and CSR into something that eventually turned into my current PhD topic.

The finalisation of the report itself was not as easy as I first thought. A business case for gender equality- what could be so difficult about that? But of course, it was difficult, because by its very nature ‘gender’ is a politicised and often highly charged area of research. As an NGO, Oxfam sees gender equality as something morally right; as a human right enshrined in legislation. On the other hand, we didn’t want to put companies off with a preachy attitude, after all, this was a report written specifically for businesses. Should we go in hard with a business case that would ‘speak to business’, potentially at the expense of the ethical dimensions of the debate? These were questions to be debated about, and still continue to be debated about in the wider field of CSR- on paper and in practice. In many ways there is a conflict between business case rhetoric and the moral belief that businesses should do good because it is good. Take labour rights for example: businesses should arguably raise factory workers’ wages to a living wage because it is the right thing to do. Yet there is a fundamental reluctance to do this, because low wages, the majority of which are earned by women, are the bread and butter of cheaper manufacturing processes overseas  and contribute to the current (albeit unsustainable) business focus on short-term profits. Oxfam’s report aims to challenge this way of thinking.

I left the Oxfam project after six months to work in sunnier climes, but the work continued under co-authors Dr Kate Grosser (also alumnus of the ICCSR) and Liz Kirk, private sector advisor at Oxfam. The finished report was published just ahead of International Women’s Day 2012. I think it shows a good compromise between the business case and the ethical case. Oxfam splits the reasoning between ‘equality requirements’ (the legal and moral case) and the ‘efficiency drivers’ (the business case). The result is a compelling resource, which I hope businesses will find useful in tackling the evermore urgent call for gender equality in all aspects of the supply chain.

Have a look for yourself at:


Or, buy the E-Book at:


By Lauren McCarthy.  Lauren is Graduate Teaching Assistant at the ICCSR, Nottingham University Business School.

Image copyright Oxfam

Posted in THEMES in Better Business