Economies across the world need the equal participation of women and men to achieve their full potential and meet the challenges of the 21st century. Yet, the economic participation of women remains stubbornly low in many countries, holding back the private sector and countries alike.

Women face persistent barriers in labor markets mainly because of discrimination and culturally entrenched ideas about gender roles. Globally, over 2.7 billion women are legally restricted from having the same choice of jobs as men, according to World Bank Group’s Women, Business and the Law research.

If women participated in the global economy at the same rate as men, economic output could rise by as much as a third. Companies that invest in women’s employment gain an important competitive advantage because they reach a wider talent pool, realize enhanced productivity, and improve staff retention. Better jobs for women lead to higher income levels and more decision-making influence. That has broader societal effects, increasing household spending on children’s nutrition, health, and education.

IFC’s Response

IFC works globally to promote gender equality. We work with the private sector to expand employment opportunities. Nine out of 10 jobs in emerging markets are created by the private sector.

We work with client firms to identify opportunities and strategies to improve the workplace so both women and men can perform their jobs well. We partner with the clients to conduct firm-level assessments to identify gender gaps in the workforce and develop action plans to institute new or strengthen existing policies and practices to recruit, retain, and promote more women.

Focus areas for IFC include boosting the number of women in leadership, expanding family-friendly policies such as childcare, and addressing gender-based violence. IFC also helps its clients measure and communicate the business case for investing in women’s employment.

  • IFC’s Women’s Employment Program 

    The program provides IFC clients in Manufacturing, Agribusiness and Services sectors with an internal gender assessment that examines talent management and company operations from a gender perspective, while highlighting the business case for gender equality in employment. This internal diagnostic assesses both quantitative and qualitative data on personnel distribution, human resource policies and benefits, employee experience and operational effectiveness. This enables IFC to provide clients with evidence-based recommendations and a customized gender action plan, which the client can choose to execute with IFC’s advisory support. In this regard, IFC also works closely with business associations, such as the Pakistan Business Council, to share knowledge and advance women’s employment.

  • IFC’s Tackling Childcare Initiative

    The initiative builds on our 2017 flagship report Tackling Childcare: The Business Case for Employer-Supported Childcare. A key barrier to female labor force participation is the lack of access to childcare. Recognizing the impact that childcare provision has on women’s employment, countries such as Brazil, India, and Jordan have policies in place requiring companies to provide childcare options. Even when not driven by regulatory compliance, companies can support childcare and reap business benefits.

    IFC's interim guidance Childcare in the COVID-19 Era: A Guide for Employers outlines ways in which employers can support the care and family needs of their employees during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and fulfill their obligations under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

    Learn more through our factsheet on IFC's Global Tackling Childcare Advisory Program. 

  • IFC’s Respectful Workplaces Advisory

    Across the world, one in three women experiences physical or sexual violence in their lifetime, according to the World Health Organization. Gender-based violence can cost 3.7 percent of GDP from lost productivity, more than double of what most governments spend on education, based on a World Bank Group report. Companies can lose up to 9 percent of their wage bill from lost productivity; absenteeism; and medical, security, and re-recruitment costs, according to one study.

    By supporting staff affected by gender-based violence, companies can create safe and respectful workplaces—while reducing the costs stemming from violence, increasing staff engagement and loyalty, and becoming employers of choice.

    IFC developed a Model Policy on Family and Sexual Violence, which serves as a guide for creating safe workplaces. It is now implemented by 18 companies in Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. IFC also trains teams of first responders on how to handle disclosures of violence in the workplace, helps raise awareness on gender-based violence, and offers monitoring and evaluation support.

    Our guidance note COVID-19 and Gender-Based Violence: Workplace Risks and Responses seeks to inform employers about the heightened risks of gender-based violence as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and outline ways in which employers can address these risks, improve employee and community well-being, and create a safe and resilient workplace.

    Learn more about the Respectful Workplaces Program through our factsheet on Workplace Responses to Gender-Based Violence and our research with companies in Fiji, Myanmar, and Solomon Islands

  • Other IFC Initiatives

    From 2014 to 2016, IFC led SheWorks, a World Bank Group global peer-learning partnership of leading companies that made commitments to support women’s employment and ultimately enhanced job opportunities and working conditions for more than 300,000 women. The partnership builds on IFC's earlier WINvest initiative and subsequently inspired similar IFC partnerships in Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, and Sri Lanka.

    The  IFC-ILO Better Work program is focused on improving working conditions in the garment industry—a key employer for women in developing countries. Bringing together local enterprises, retail buyers, governments, and workers’ and employers’ organizations, Better Work strives to improve labor standards, reduce the incidence of sexual harassment, and thereby, promote competitiveness.

    In partnership with Share Hope Foundation, a non-profit organization working to bring social programs to benefit workers in the Haitian garment sector, IFC launched the publication Understanding Gender-Based Violence Through the Lens of Haitian Garment Workers (2019). The study explores workers’ experiences with various types of gender-based violence and assesses the impact on the workplace.

    IFC's Women on Boards program is building capacity, raising awareness, and expanding the discussion about gender diversity on boards in emerging markets and developing countries.