The apparel industry is dominated by women in terms of the workforce, operations and supply chain as well as the target customer base. Even so, the ‘gender’ element is implicit rather than explicit. Moreover, gender equality and women’s empowerment is an increasingly important issue for stakeholders – from employees working for apparel companies and consumers buying their products, to investors financing these companies. Stakeholders want to make informed decisions and encourage stronger corporate gender impact. Yet despite the growing number of resources available, including sustainability reports, company blogs and press releases, stakeholders still face a lack of information. Some want more and better gender data focusing on the supply chain, on women’s health (including sexual and reproductive health) and on company practices and performance rather than on high-level commitments. Others want greater transparency around overall gender efforts to drive change.
Though a number of brands have held the mirror up and examined their value chain, current corporate disclosure around gender efforts in the apparel industry is woefully insufficient. All 36 companies included in this assessment publish less than 40% of the information that stakeholders expect to see, both in terms of quality and quantity of information shared. Moreover, nearly 90% of the companies assessed disclose less than 30% of that information.
Apparel companies play a large role in many women’s lives and therefore must be held to account. If we are to adequately address the needs of 50% of the population, companies need to be much more explicit about how women are impacted by their actions and what they are doing to address those impacts. Ultimately, to accelerate corporate progress in closing the gender gap, companies will need to make the invisible visible.
Gender data is missing
Companies publish very little data disaggregated by gender. This holds true across a number of metrics, including the gender composition of companies’ leadership, their gender pay gaps and the gender breakdown of key grievance data, such as the number of grievances reported or remediated.
Only seven companies (19%) report on the gender balance of their workforce across five levels of leadership (board of directors, senior executives, senior management, middle management and overall workforce). An additional ten companies report on four levels of leadership, though do not reveal the gender composition of either their senior management or middle management. Only three companies (Costco Wholesale, LVMH and Target) publish the gender balance of their workforce by more than three occupational functions in their latest reporting.
Publicly available gender data is particularly low for the Chinese companies assessed (ANTA Sports Products, Heilan Group, Souyute Group and Zhejiang Semir Garment). Although all four companies reveal the gender composition of their board of directors and senior executives, ANTA Sports Products is the only one that also publishes the gender breakdown of its overall workforce and workforce by three occupational functions (office, retail and factory).
Only Nike and Kering disclose information showing they track the gender composition of the number of employees participating in professional development programmes with specific support for women, such as mentoring programmes, leadership coaching and professional networks. No company publishes the gender breakdown of the percentage of employees promoted in its latest reporting, though Walmart and Gap report on the percentage of women employees based in the United States that were promoted, and LVMH’s subsidiary Louis Vuitton reports on this figure across its operations. Only Inditex reports the gender composition of its annual turnover of employees. No company publishes the gender breakdown of its employees’ annual absenteeism levels.
In the supply chain, only VF Corporation requests suppliers to disclose the breakdown of data by gender for their workers. No company publishes the gender composition of workers’ injuries, fatalities and absenteeism. Nor does any company publish the total procurement spend that is directed to women-owned businesses, though nine companies (25%) have committed to or actively support these businesses.
In terms of pay, Inditex and Lojas Renner are the only two companies assessed that disclose their global gender pay data. Inditex provides a regional breakdown, whereas Lojas Renner publishes its gender pay gap by leadership level and also calculates the difference when accounting for employees’ base salary and average benefit ticket. There are 13 companies (36%) that report on their gender pay gap in the United Kingdom, thereby complying with national regulation. However, none of the companies assessed provides pay data by pay band or occupational function.
Regarding grievance data, Aditya Birla Fashion and Retail and Kering are the only two companies that publish information that indicates they monitor the number of grievances reported and handled, though neither company discloses how many of these concerns were raised by women. None of the companies assessed reports the gender breakdown of the number of grievances remediated, including violence and harassment grievances. Neither does any company indicate whether it requires suppliers to collect data on the grievances reported by women workers or on the remediation of those grievances.
Mind the gender gap: why more data is needed
In order to contribute to the achievement of SDG 5 and beyond, companies need to collect and disclose the gender breakdown across a number of metrics. There is also a strong business case for collecting, monitoring and analysing more gender data to assess and track both the impacts and inequalities arising within companies’ operations. It is a key step toward revealing and understanding the extent of the gender gap as well as informing the effectiveness of companies’ actions and strategies to promote and drive gender equality and women’s empowerment.