U.N. Sustainable Development Goal 5:

Gender Equality

In honor of International Women’s Month (March) International Women’s Day (March 8) and Trans Day of Visibility (March 31), GBB would like to recognize SDG 5: Gender Equality and acknowledge the progress towards this goal and continued need for improvement. The U.N. SDGs are driving governments, individuals, universities and businesses to adjust their practices to achieve benchmarks and secure a sustainable future by 2030. Incorporating SDG 5: Gender Equality, into your business will signify to your employees, customers and stakeholders you are committed to securing a sustainable future for all.

What is SDG 5?

Gender equality is a basic, fundamental human right; however, over half the global population still faces gender based economic, social and legal discrimination. There has been progress over the past few decades that has led to more girls attending and completing school, fewer girls forced into early marriage, more women serving in positions of leadership and greater gender reform laws. 2020 was a year of significant protests, awareness and education about social justice issues including race, gender and LGTBQ rights. This brought to focus important conversations on social media platforms and in families, companies, schools and even the national government. Though progress has been made, legislation is still being passed that threatens women, trans, and nonbinary people both in the U.S. and across the world.

SDG 5: Gender Equality aims at bridging that gap and creating equal rights, safety, opportunities and representation for all genders. A sustainable, peaceful and prosperous future is not possible unless it is built upon a foundation of equity.

Global Gender Inequality

Women are more likely than men to experience unemployment, low wage jobs unrepresentative of their qualifications, hold fewer positions of leadership and on average make 77 cents for every dollar a man makes. This disparity is even greater for trans and nonbinary people. In 18 countries, men can legally prevent their wives from working. Further, women worldwide disproportionately continue to be held responsible for unpaid childcare, face maternity-related discrimination and often give up their education and careers completely to raise children.

Organizations like the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) make gender equality the center of their work and have driven significant progress with more women and girls in school now than ever before. Additionally, now women make up 40% of paid workers outside of the agricultural sector, an increase from 35% in 1990.

The COVID-19 pandemic brought to light and in some cases worsened the existing inequalities for women, girls, and trans people in health, the economy, security and social protection. This has the potential to reverse the progress made to reduce the inequalities and highlights the importance to intentionally rebuild from this pandemic and create stronger gender equality in families, business and government.

SDG 5 Targets

The UN has identified 9 targets and 15 indicators for progress in SDG 5. Many of these goals are scaled for national government implementation. However, they can still be applied to business

practice on a smaller scale to show a demonstrated commitment to securing a sustainable future.

Below are the most applicable targets and indicators for businesses:

  • End discrimination against women and girls
  • End all violence against and exploitation of women and girls
  • Value unpaid family and childcare and promote shared domestic responsibilities
  • Ensure full participation in leadership and decision-making processes
  • Including hiring and promoting women in management positions
  • Provide fair, affordable access to reproductive rights and health

How Does Gender Equality Relate to Sustainability?

Promoting gender equality and empowering women is crucial to securing a sustainable future. Project Drawdown, a coalition of researchers, scientists, business leaders and policymakers, determined the top 100 most powerful solutions to contribute to climate action. The sixth most effective solution was educating girls, a strategy that often doesn’t come to mind when considering how to protect the planet. Additionally, family planning was ranked at number seven, even above rooftop solar panels and electric vehicles. According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), educating girls could directly correlate to a 51.58 gigaton reduction in emissions by 2050.

Historically, more educated women have fewer, healthier children and experience greater economic success. It is estimated that only a $10 increase in a woman’s income would have the same impact on her children’s health and nutrition as a $110 increase to a man’s. This distinction highlights the importance of empowering women due to their interconnectedness with the family and the community and measured, direct impact on the planet and the global population. Additionally, the UN has estimated that the global population will increase to 9.7 billion by 2050. If girls’ education continues to expand at the targeted rate there will be 2 billion fewer people than estimated by 2045.

Finally, women are disproportionately impacted by climate disasters due to them living in greater poverty, having less access to human rights such as moving freely and acquiring land, and facing systemic violence that increases during periods of instability and stress. Climate-related hazards result in higher workloads for women, occupational hazards, and higher mortality due to greater responsibility and sacrificing their meals and safety for their families. The Paris Climate Agreement has included specific provisions to ensure women receive support to cope with the pressures of climate change.

How Is Gender Equality Related to Business?

Companies have an inherent responsibility to uphold basic human rights, especially those related to gender in the workforce. Beyond basic responsibility, companies are faced with an opportunity to empower women and girls through core business practice, investments in social responsibility initiatives, commitment to representation in higher positions and equal wages, and access to fair maternity leave and reproductive health. This is especially important in developing countries where businesses provide 90% of the jobs, technologies, and capital that have the potential to significantly impact gender equality. Fully incorporating and empowering women to their full potential into the workforce would increase profits and drive progress in sustainable development. Business leaders are increasingly developing and adapting policies and practices that advance women’s empowerment not only in their workplace but within their marketplace, production, and host communities as well. It is now up to other companies to follow the trend and fully adopt gender equality into all areas of their corporate social responsibility initiatives and core business practice.

Best Practices to Build Gender Equality in Business

Below are the best practices for SDG 5: Gender Equality implementation in the workplace:

  • Pay employees equal remuneration for work regardless of gender and strive to provide a livable wage to all employees
  • Commit to having equal representation of women and other minorities in positions of leadership
  • Use representation of gender and diversity as a measurable marker of company’s success and progress
  • Provide access to reproductive and sexual health-care services
  • Provide women adequate, paid maternity leave
  • Establish a zero-tolerance policy for all forms of violence and harassment at work
    • Administer regular trainings on workplace inclusivity, violence, and harassment and respond to any allegations with full respect and reasonable action
  • Allow open dialogue with employees on their experience working for the company
  • Create a diversity committee to ensure all members of the company feel heard and represented and have a safe space to discuss their concerns and experiences
  • Create opportunities for tele-working to enable women to stay in their career while attending to their responsibilities at home
  • Expand business relationships with women and minority-owned enterprises

SDG 5: Gender Equality Implementation Examples


GBB member, SpectraForce, is a minority-owned leading global service firm that provides consulting, staffing, and outsourcing services to a broad portfolio of clients and industries worldwide. While their scope alone is impressive, one of the most remarkable features of their company is their commitment to diversity and inclusion. They have received a number of diversity accreditation including 16th in the “Top 100 Diversity Owned Businesses in North Carolina,” 163rd in “Top 500 Asian Owned Businesses in the U.S.” and winner of “Regional Supplier of the Year” from the CMSDC. They also hosted an International Women’s Month video series where they asked their female employees to describe different topics including their perfect day, the last time they laughed out loud, a new hobby they’ve picked up lately, favorite tv show with a leading female role, and most importantly, what advice they would give to younger women starting their careers.

You can access their International Women’s Month videos on their Linkedin page and learn more about their commitment to diversity on their website.

Executive Summary

It is important to note that while women, trans, and nonbinary people face obstacles, they are not powerless victims. With growing access to education, jobs, financial support, and other resources, many are taking the fight for an equal and a sustainable future into their own hands. Women everywhere are leading important social justice and climate movements that are achieving real solutions. It is up to those in positions of power to do everything they can to protect their rights and provide the infrastructure and support to sustain this progress forward. Business leaders, sustainability managers and green teams can find ways to incorporate SDG 5 into their business models and practices. Here’s a simple playbook for getting started:

  • Educate yourself, fellow executives and employees on SDG 5  (U.N. SDG Overview).
  • Identify your company’s initiatives that are aligned with SDG 5 already.
  • Implement the most impactful initiatives. Green Business Bureau has over 400 to choose from including initiatives related to energy efficiency, renewable energy, waste management, green procurement, vehicle emissions, water conservation, and pollution reduction.
  • Set measurable targets to increase gender equality within your company
  • Report on progress routinely. Here’s a sample sustainability scorecard to keep track.
  • Communicate your company’s commitment to sustainability. You can reference SDG 5 for the initiatives related to sustainable cities and communities
  • Lead by example. Be an ambassador in the business world for a gender inclusive business

You may find that your company has already adopted initiatives that drive SDG 5 action. Educating yourself and your colleagues about the UN’s goals will help you identify which gender equality  targets are most appropriately aligned with your company’s processes. It is up to you to help turn your business into a platform for good and an example of taking SDG 5 seriously.

About the Author

Leah Mowery

GBB Green Ambassador

Leah Mowery is a content writer for the Green Business Bureau who is passionate about using creativity and storytelling to relay the importance of sustainability. She served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Nepal where she discovered a love for sustainable development. She fostered this interest in her Master’s in Global Sustainability program with a concentration in Climate Change at the University of South Florida. She enjoys painting, reading and all forms of outdoor recreation.

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