The BPP recognises the inequalities and hardships related to the pandemic that are being experienced by groups at risk of vulnerability, particularly women and girls, people with disabilities, and the poor. Initiatives that seek to increase opportunities for women, people with disabilities and marginalised groups ultimately results in their ability to contribute to business as investors, employees, producers, suppliers and customers.
Improving the economic position, social status, and safety of women and girls contributes to more prosperous, fairer and more stable societies. The Australian Government has designated gender equality as an overarching principle for the Australian development program. All partnerships under the BPP have a focus on delivering economic and social benefits to women and girls.
Women currently face constraints to participating in the private sector and gaining benefits from such participation. These include: social norms that define which tasks men and women should perform, how much they should be paid, how genders should interact, and who can go where; inability to go to work due to household responsibilities; definitions of acceptable female behaviour; perceptions of women as being less capable than men; and participation sometimes being seen by men as inappropriate or unnecessary. Women can also lack the capital and resources to become entrepreneurs or exercise buying power as consumers.
Despite these constraints, women’s participation in the economy is increasing globally. Businesses are recognising, and many already recognise, the value of diversity in their organisations, and are developing creative approaches to keep women engaged, build their skills and promote them to leadership roles, contributing to both social and financial returns. Having a diverse workforce and ensuring women are in leadership roles enhances business performance including through better risk management, improving employee engagement and productivity, attracting talent and bringing more diverse views to solve complex problems.
There are many good examples from businesses around the world making changes in the workforce, the value chain and consumers. The social impacts of these changes can include:
- Improved income for women
- Improved access for women to assets, jobs, training, appropriate products and services (everything from banking to childcare)
- Increased ability to make decisions at home, and in their work or business
- Having a manageable workload
- Changes to policies, practices and attitudes to support women’s work and businesses.
There are also risks associated with failure to address gender inequalities in the workforce – ranging from employee disengagement and absenteeism, violence and sexual harassment through to damage to company reputation.
Economies and societies cannot reach their full potential if they exclude large portions of the population from full economic participation. While governments have a role to play in creating policies which encourage inclusive economies, in most countries, private businesses are the largest employers and provide a wide variety of goods and services to communities. As a result, engaging the private sector as champions for social inclusion is a critical step on the path towards equal economic participation for all.
In practical terms, the BPP is looking for partners who are willing to consider how their business can better engage with people with disabilities, men and women, ethnic minorities, or any group that may be marginalised in society. We are looking to support viable, commercial initiatives that tap into and foster the skills, assets, and resources of individuals and communities who are often locked out of economic participation.
Providing increased access to goods and services that meet the needs of diverse populations presents a tremendous opportunity for businesses. Similarly, businesses perform at their best when the broad range of skills, expertise, and networks within communities are utilised. Leading companies are innovating around emerging market opportunities by making inclusion a core aspect of their culture. They recognise that championing accessibility and creating an inclusive and equitable culture leads to innovative product design that reaches more diverse segments of the market.
Prosperous businesses recognise that meeting the needs of diverse populations is key to successful business models. Best practice shows that businesses who engage meaningfully with women and marginalised groups benefit from a broader customer base and improved insights, higher productivity and efficiency, and improved product quality or suitability. Businesses with more inclusive supply chains also find these groups to be more reliable, and that their distribution networks are diversified.
Businesses often assume that including people with disabilities within the workforce is expensive, complicated and offers limited tangible benefits. However, multiple studies have shown that disability inclusion in the workplace results in higher revenue, net income and profit margins. Workplaces that are inclusive and embrace diversity access a wider pool of talent; increase productivity; gain insights into broader market segments; and tap into the purchasing power of a larger part of the population. More generally, companies benefit from better reputations and brand recognition as a result of more inclusive practices.
The BPP recognises that some business initiatives can create risks to workers, suppliers, customers and the environment. Common risks business activity may pose to communities include the risk of modern slavery and indecent work; workplace safety risks; the risk of sexual exploitation, abuse, or harassment; and child protection risks. More broadly, business activity may cause harm to the environment, and businesses may need to consider how to reduce this impact.
BPP is looking for partners who can identify these key risks and ensure appropriate safeguards are put in place to meet their obligations and minimise harm. Safeguarding is the process of developing and implementing policies and practices which prioritise the safety of people and the environment and minimise negative impacts. For some businesses used to evaluating risk more narrowly, this may be a new process. Businesses that take a holistic, stakeholder view of their role in a market or community may already integrate safeguarding risk in their existing processes.
Businesses that act to mitigate safeguarding risks and respond effectively to incidents can improve health and safety in their workplaces, strengthen productivity, benefit from improved access to talent and worker retention, and protect and strengthen their reputation among communities, customers and investors.These efforts can also reduce vulnerability to litigation and compensation claims, and the financial and reputational damage this can inflict on businesses and investments.