The shift to global supply chains by companies around the world has allowed them to source materials and manufacture products more cost-effectively. But it has also opened them to extensive risks – not least, that of widespread gender inequality in their supply chains. Businesses must work on collaborating with suppliers at all levels to mitigate these risks and improve gender equality. 

Working actively to empower women across supply chains is not only the right thing to do, but it is also good for business. An overwhelming number of studies have demonstrated the benefits that women bring to businesses in the form of innovation, increased productivity and financial returns. These benefits will be most immediate in those areas that experience the greatest levels of gender inequality. 

How to engage and collaborate with suppliers?

There are several strategies to provide assistance and support your suppliers to improve gender equality and working conditions: 

  • Open communication with your suppliers, focusing on those with the highest strategic impact on your business (strategic suppliers). Engage and share with your suppliers why gender equality is important for your organization and what the social and business benefits are for everyone. Identify the challenges and opportunities for the suppliers around gender and what they need to perform better. 
  • Provide support and assistance. To ensure that the suppliers understand and have the capacity to join you on the gender equality journey, offer workshops and/or training to increase awareness and build capacity to make changes in the organization.  You can also bring in an external organization to support your suppliers. e.g. to organize workshops, introduce tools or other forms of assistance.
  • Develop gender-responsive policies and practices that support the suppliers. Assess and if necessary revise your sourcing & procurement policies and practices to ensure that they do not impose a negative impact on gender equality in your supply chain. Add a gender lens to your existing policies and practices.  
  • Make sure that your social audits also add a gender lens – understand the different challenges for men and women in the supply chain.


Advantages and benefits

  1. Empowering women economically can benefit livelihoods and communities. Women tend to invest the majority of their income back into their families and communities, especially compared to men; economic support for women can therefore raise broader quality of life for others. 
  2. Building a more diverse and inclusive workforce improves performance, innovation and staff engagement – all of which improves business for both buyers and suppliers. This is true at all levels, including leadership roles. Different experiences and perspectives play a crucial role in a resilient workforce, allowing for better performance at all levels of the organization. 
  3. Embracing a sustainable and gender-oriented organization increases brands’ reputation among internal and external stakeholders (e.g. consumers, employees, investors, shareholders, governments). Younger generations especially display brand loyalty towards or join companies that prove their commitment to gender equality. Investors, too, reward sustainable businesses with good ESG performance.

Working with suppliers to develop a gender equitable and sustainable supply chain will require hard work and action. But this is an investment that will pay off: it will enhance profits for all while also making sure that everyone has the same opportunities, rights and resources.