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The fifth UN (United Nations) Sustainable Development goal is Gender Equality. The goal is to “achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.” Women and girls represent half of the world’s popu­lation and therefore also half of its potential. But, today gender inequality persists everywhere and stagnates social progress. According to the United Nations1:

  • Globally, women earn only 77 cents for every dollar that men earn doing the same work
  • Only two thirds of countries in the developing world have achieved gender parity in primary education
  • Less than 20 percent of the world’s landholders are women
  • Up to 7 in 10 women around the world experience physical and/or sexual violence at some point in their lifetime
  • Worldwide, almost 750 million women and girls alive today were married before their 18th birthday

Furthermore, women face gender-based job restrictions in 100 of the 173 economies included in the World Bank’s 2106 report, Women, Business and the Law, and husbands can legally prevent their wives from working in 18 of these economies.2

It has been shown that empowering women and girls has a multiplier effect, and helps drive up economic growth and development across the board. Studies show that women in developing countries could be an estimated $9 trillion better off if their pay and access to paid work were equal to that of men.3 The additional output generated by decreasing the gap in employment between men and women could drive the wider economy. The McKinsey Global Institute estimates that achieving gender parity would add between $12 trillion and $28 trillion to global growth by 2025.4   In emerging markets, where women reinvest a staggering 90 cents of every additional dollar of income in “human resources” such as their families’ education, health, nutrition – compared to 30-40% for men – the impact of increased women’s income and assets on the wider community is significant. 5

From a practical perspective, investing in support of gender equality can include investing in businesses founded, run or funded by women. Data by MSCI ESG Research that shows that from 2011 to 2016, U.S. companies with at least three women on their boards experienced 10% median gains in return on equity and 37% gains in earnings per share.6   Similarly, a report by Catalyst found that Fortune 500 companies with the highest percentage of woman board directors outperformed those with the least by 53% for return on equity, 42% for return on sales and 66% for return on invested capital. 7

Investing in companies whose policies encourage gender equality and companies that make gender equality, from top management to the ground floor, a priority is also supportive of the 5th Sustainable Development Goal. For example, in 2014, Gap Inc. became the first Fortune 500 Company to announce that it pays female and male employees equally for equal work around the world.8 Additionally, to raise awareness of the global need for equal pay for equal work, Gap Inc. created a digital campaign in 2016 showing people styled in outfits missing 21 percent to represent the fact that women in the U.S. are paid by an average of 21 percent less than their male counterparts. 9 As a result of their efforts in addressing and reducing gender inequality, in 2016, Gap Inc. became the first retail industry company to receive the Catalyst Award. The annual award from Catalyst recognizes organizations whose innovative approaches result in proven, measurable results that advance the recruitment, development, and advancement of women in the workplace.10

Finally, investing in companies that produce products or services that benefit women is important to promoting the empowerment of women. Mastercard and Westpac are two examples of financial services firms whose programs are advancing gender equality and women’s economic empowerment. MasterCard’s Give Me 5 initiative is a practical example of the 5th Sustainable Development Goal’s target to “enhance the use of enabling technology, in particular information and communications technology, to promote the empowerment of women.” In partnership with UN Women, Mastercard will provide half a million Nigerian women with ID cards enabled with electronic payments functionality.11 A recent PwC report 12 describes another example from Australia’s Westpac Group. Within their 2013-2017 sustainability strategy, Westpac set out a target to provide access to basic and affordable banking to an additional 300,000 Pacific Islanders, with the aspiration that 50% of these will be women. The company’s approach included a combination of ‘in-store’ banking, the choice of a basic account, and a financial literacy program. Westpac’s approach is especially important for women who often don’t hold the social status but are responsible for running households and managing their family finances. Access to a bank account is a fundamental step for improving money management and provides a safe place to store income or savings. Women’s improved financial access and knowledge is an important step towards women’s empowerment and status within their household and community.

While the world has achieved progress towards gender equality and women’s empowerment, much work remains before the targets set out in Sustainable Development Goal #5 are met globally. Thankfully, investors are increasingly putting their money where their values are by investing in companies that support women’s equality, helping to drive corporate and community change. 13


  1. United Nations Development Programme, “Goal 5: Gender equality”
  2. World Bank, Women, Business and the Law, 2016
  3. ActionAid, Close the gap! The cost of inequality in women’s work, 2015
  4. McKinsey Global Institute, The Power of Parity: How advancing women’s equality can add $12 trillion to global growth (Woetzel et al, 2015)
  5. Jackie VanderBrug, “The Global Rise of Female Entrepreneurs,” Harvard Business Review (September 4, 2013).
  6. MSCI Research, The Tipping Point: Women on Boards and Financial Performance, 2016
  7. Catalyst, Companies With More Women Board Directors Experience Higher Financial Performance, According to Latest Catalyst Bottom Line Report,
  8. Business for 2030, Goal 5 – Achieve Gender Equality,
  9. Gap Inc., Press Release: Gap Inc. Illustrates the 21 Percent Missing From U.S. Women’s Paychecks Through New Interactive Digital Campaign
  10. Gap Inc. , Press Release: Gap Inc.’s Commitment to Equality Recognized with 2016 Catalyst Award
  11. Business for 2030, Goal 5 – Achieve Gender Equality,
  12. PwC, Navigating the SDGs: a business guide to engaging with the UN Global Goals, 2016
  13. Merrill Lynch, 4 Ways to Invest in Women’s Equality,