Why Transparency in Pakistan’s Private Sector is Crucial to Gender Diversity

On 28th September 2021, the Pakistan Business Council (PBC) launched the Gender Diversity and Disclosure in Pakistan (GDDP) Report in collaboration with the International Finance Corporation (IFC), a member of the World Bank Group. The event marks the third major collaboration of the PBC and IFC, the Pak Investment Competitiveness (PIC) Project, an initiative designed to strengthen the private sector through improved access to information for investors, facilitation and retention of female talent, and enhanced transparent and responsible business conduct. Previous engagements have included exemplifying the business case for women’s employment through leading Pakistani firms, and promoting family-friendly work policies for greater support to working parents.

The GDDP Report, available for download here, compiles and analyzes the results of the Social Disclosures Diagnostic, a survey produced by the IFC and distributed on 25th May 2021 to various firms in the Pakistani private sector. The survey measured the disclosure of practices, policies, and strategies that enable the hiring and development of the female workforce in the formal sector, in a country that has a female labor force participation (FLFP) rate of around 22%, one of the lowest in the world, even though women account for 49% of the population. Pakistan also ranks a dismal 153rd out of 156 countries on the Global Gender Gap Report 2021.

“The lack of regular reporting and disclosure has made it exceedingly difficult to gauge what progress is being made towards greater inclusiveness,” said Ehsan Malik, CEO of the PBC, in his opening remarks, “and what is the effect the interventions [in improving women’s employment opportunities] are having.”

The Report underscores the importance of Pakistani businesses to engage in regularly collecting and reporting gender-disaggregated data on a voluntary basis, because public accountability of organizations not only enhances the business case for greater gender diversity, but counters information gaps faced by investors, clients, and employees, leading to more efficient market systems. Interested stakeholders can gain insight into the kind of social impact that is generated by a company’s operations, products, and services, mitigating uncertainties and perceptions of risk, which can allow a greater flow of private capital for economic development.

The Social Disclosures Diagnostic measures the opportunities and challenges of women employment along 5 Gender Equality Principles (GEPs):

  1. Leadership and Accountability
  2. Gender Diversity (Workforce Representation)
  3. Gender Pay Gaps (Compensation and Benefits)
  4. Optimal Workplace Culture
  5. Coaching and Mentoring for Female Employees

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Diagnostic also surveys the measures companies have enacted to contain the disproportionate impact on female employees, who have suffered greater losses in income and increased caregiving responsibilities. In total, 49 companies responded to the survey along these parameters, mostly from the textile, banking and finance, and food and consumer products sectors.

Out of the 46 companies who responded, 36% of them did not collect sex-disaggregated data, making it difficult to understand how their policies and work culture affect female employees in particular, whose challenges in the workplace are different from male employees. 53% of the responding firms did not conduct anonymized surveys for their workforce; and 42% did not collect data on the gender pay gap, while 27% opted out of responding to the question at all. Additionally, almost half the respondents either did not collect or did not respond to the question regarding the collection of sex-disaggregated data on violence and harassment grievances.

“Some estimates show that we have less than a third of the data that we need to even assess the status of gender equality in the 2030 SDGs agenda,” Shalaka Joshi, Lead for Gender and Economic Inclusion, South Asia at the IFC, explained during the panel discussion.

In line with this issue, the GDDP Report makes four important policy recommendations. Firstly, to tailor evidence-based and gender-specific solutions, companies must proactively collect sex-disaggregated data and, secondly, adopt regular reporting and disclosure practices for improved competitiveness and greater investments. Thirdly, the private sector is strongly encouraged to support female progression, which is supported through formal policies by only 36% of the companies that responded to the Diagnostic. Finally, companies will have to enact measures such as flexible work policies to solve the unique challenges faced by working women.

The launch of the GDDP Report will be followed by the PBC-IFC Gender Balance Awards early next year, in which companies will be scored based on their gender diversity and disclosure practices to encourage the further development and dissemination of these practices throughout the private sector. Case studies will also be produced on best practices by individual companies within an environment of peer learning and collaboration under the PIC Project.

“Social disclosures effectively showcase how businesses manage their workforce to investors,” concluded Nazish Shekha, Senior Research Associate at the PBC, in her closing remarks. “In the organizational perspective, well-designed disclosures provide the framework for target-setting and measuring progress of the organization, thus increasing accountability across all departments.”

The webinar on the launch of the GDDP Report can be viewed here.