Many investors and business managers would like to take a similar approach to improving their own organizations’ gender strategies. But how do you go about assessing an organization on how it integrates gender considerations into its business plan? And how do you measure progress as you implement changes?
Following Convergence XIV in 2013, Criterion Fellow Nikki Ashcroft reflects on one possible framework for integrating gender metrics in the value chain. In this, she discusses value chains, gender in the value chain, and metrics.

Gender Metrics in the Value Chain

Nikki Ashcroft, Fellow

Women’s empowerment and gender equality has been on the development agenda for years. The UN, among many other statements on this topic, recommends gender mainstreaming, as a strategy for making women’s as well as men’s concerns and experiences an integral dimension of the design, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation of policies and programs… so that men and women benefit equally and inequality is not perpetuated.”[1]

Many investors and business managers would like to take a similar approach to improving their own organizations’ gender strategies. But how do you go about assessing an organization on how it integrates gender considerations into its business plan? And how do you measure progress as you implement changes?

I’ll discuss one possible framework in this post, and discuss:

  1. Value Chains
  2. Gender in the value chain
  3. Metrics

I won’t be able to cover everything, but at least we’ll get started.

This post is inspired by both a conversation at Convergence XIV and this report from the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves.

Value Chain

needle1-1320067624-null-4826First, let’s look at value chains. Michael Porter discussed the idea of a value chain in, Competitive Advantage: Creating and Sustaining Superior Performance. His structure, where he categorized a firm’s primary activities and support activities, is illustrated below:


This value chain is limited to the firm itself. However, the firm or organization’s web of influence extends beyond its boundaries. The UN used the following definition: “value chains comprise the full range of activities required to bring a product or service from conception, through the different phases of production – which involve a combination of physical transformation, inputs by various service providers, delivery to the final consumer, and disposal after use” in their report, Gender Aware Value Chain Development.

Our group at Convergence decided that Porter’s chain was too linear; we preferred to discuss a value web. With that in mind, we incorporated the activities included in the Clean Cookstoves report….

  • Design
  • Production
  • Consumer Finance
  • Supplier Finance
  • Distribution
  • After-sale service

…and added some additional places where an organization could exert its influence:

  • Community
  • Board
  • Customers
  • Supplier

Gender in the Value Chain

Now that those definitions are out of the way, let’s get to the interesting portion- how do you look at gender throughout the value chain. In the business world, firms are encouraged to analyze their own value chain by defining and understanding each activity, identifying linkages between them, and looking for opportunities to increase value at each stage[2]. We can use a similar process to look at gender within the value chain and assess whether each stage in the value chain is inclusive.

For example in product design, the Alliance for Clean Cookstoves found that, “women’s input in design is critical….Women control how the products are used and if they are used exclusively over a long period of time. Engaging women can help generate demand, create appropriate products, and increase adoption.”

A key part of their findings is that including women in this process both helps the women (they get a product they want) and helps the business (a better product leads to higher sales and greater customer satisfaction). Including gender considerations in a value chain analysis won’t always lead to such clear wins, but as this example illustrates, including women can be good for business.

For a more in-depth look at gender in the value chain, this paper, published by DANIDA, contains a review of the field. It looks at, among other things, whether the value chain intervention was seeking to:

  • Include more women in the chain;
  • Improve the terms of inclusion of existing female actors in the chain or at least to ensure that no harm is produced,
  • Address gender inequality at the level of the household, institutions/organizations and value chain governance;
  • Help women to achieve a better functional position in the value chain.

One of their conclusions is that including female intermediaries can help women overcome their lack of linkages to other parts of the value chain. Another is that increasing the number of women involved does not necessarily mean that women are keeping the gains of that participation. Overall, they found that trying to improve the value chain for disadvantaged people, without a specific focus on women, did not consistently improve the value chain for women.

The UN published a report in 2011, titled Gender Aware Value Chain Development to examine the role of women in the agricultural value chain. This states that “it is noted that a gender-sensitive approach to value chain analysis works to (i) understand women’s and men’s roles and relationships in the chain (ii) examine gender differentials in access to, and control over, key productive assets necessary for participation in the chain, and (iii) analyse how gender power relations affect economic rents among actors throughout the chain.”

That seems obvious to people who regularly think about gender, but it is clear from surveying the field of value chain analysis that not every intervention takes a gender sensitive approach. A careful analysis of the value chain can make it clear where women can contribute and how considering gender will improve the business and increase the positive impact on women and girls.

Gender Metrics in the Value Chain

The last piece of the puzzle! Once an organization decides to look seriously at gender in their value chain, it then has to measure the results of their efforts. The Social Venture Technology Group’s paper is one useful way to examine the different uses of metrics.

  • Rating (Screen)
  • Summarizing (Assessment)
  • Ongoing tracking  (Management)

In many cases, measurement happens primarily at the beginning of an intervention or investment (Rating) and at the end (Assessment), while the Management portion in the middle is frequently neglected. Measurement has a cost, and frequently, the information that funders or investors want tracked is not the same information that the organization needs to run smoothly.

Metrics, of course, have both their inherent problems and their detractors. Many of these have been discussed extensively before. To list some of the most prominent problems:

  • Metrics tells a partial story. You can know how many women are involved and even their salary without knowing how much control they have of that money, how healthy they are, or if your intervention improved their lives.
  • Organizations have a strong incentive to publish success, which can skew the broader conversation. There’s a culture of never admitting failure, because failure could mean never getting investment or donor funding again. There needs to be a culture of acknowledging and learning from failure.
  • Identifying a problem does not immediately solve it; a firm or organization might not be willing to change their practices.
  • Researchers might have inherent bias and want to see a certain outcome.
  • Metrics might create perverse incentives. For example, companies might try to increase the number of women owned companies in their supply chain, and encourage more women to start businesses. But this could also decrease the growth of these businesses because if the women dilute their ownership share below 50%, they jeopardize their contract.

However, despite their problems, measurement can increase transparency for people who want to make changes, particularly if the results are public. For example, making a list of employees’ salaries by position and gender would make it clear where there is a pay gap and allow organizations to begin remedying the situation.

Now, we need to move beyond discussing the problems with metrics and move into creating solutions, imperfect as they may be. One place to start looking for solutions is the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative, which has published many papers on multidimensional poverty measurement and developed a Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index.

[2] Porter’s Value Chain: Understanding How Value is Created Within Organizations //

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