Building effective women’s economic empowerment strategies



How can the private sector actively promote women’s economic empowerment? This paper argues that real progress will come when companies shift from opportunistic and isolated initiatives to holistic and integrated approaches. It proposes eight building blocks that should address underlying systemic barriers to women’s economic empowerment and include gender dynamics across the entire company.  Supportive corporate structures and culture, robust measurement systems and effective partnerships are required to sustain these approaches.

This report draws on insights gathered from interviews with 10 multinational companies actively engaged in advancing women economic empowerment and a comprehensive review of the latest literature and leading company practices and programmes.

The report outlines eight building blocks to a holistic approach to women’s economic empowerment: Access to safe and equitable employment opportunities; access to and control over economic resources and opportunities; education and training; social protection and childcare; access to and control over reproductive health and family formation; freedom from the risk of violence; voice in society and policy influence; and freedom of movement.

Various examples from industry are explored throughout with key highlights noted in the report and a more detailed discussion in the appendix.

  • Information and Communications Technology is helping improve the lives of millions of women through better access to markets, knowledge and network. There is a need to invest in science and technology education for girls, and engage in debate with governments and peers about how to unlock more opportunities for women as employees and users of technology.
  • Healthcare has a unique role to play through access to medicines and care. While some leading companies have been working to expand this access, much more is needed to address the affordability and availability of medical care for women. Strengthening skills, knowledge and access to equipment for frontline health workers is a critical opportunity for the industry to address talent shortages in healthcare and strengthen opportunities for women.
  • Financial services have been steadily expanding efforts to improve women’s financial literacy, provide more savings and credit options, and offer training and mentoring for women business owners. However, in much of the world, legal and socio-cultural barriers continue to limit women’s access to and use of financial products and services.

The paper concludes with emerging lessons on how companies are addressing barriers to women’s economic empowerment:

  • The organic growth of women’s empowerment initiatives has meant that they are often housed in a variety of departments with few communication mechanisms for communicating progress, barriers or leveraging resources. A growing number of companies are creating cross-functional teams to address this.
  • Monitoring and evaluation is necessary to understand what works and what does not. There is a growing focus on reporting how initiatives have contributed to meaningful change beyond number of women hired or reached. Disaggregated data can help to report ongoing progress.
  • Partnerships are a fundamental to making progress. They provide opportunities to leverage networks, resources and expertise of a range of actors, but building them can be a challenge. The right intermediaries will contribute to the success of initiatives by connecting strategic local partners who work in hard-to-reach places and understand complexities of the context.


ICRW and BSR. (2016). Building effective women’s economic empowerment strategies: Sector specific opportunities and the case for collaboration. Working paper. New York: BSR.