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February 29, 2024

Gender-based violence and harassment can be difficult to identify

Lauri Etelämäki

Gender analysis is an integral part of each investment decision at Finnfund, and one of the aspects that we aim to mitigate is the possibility of gender-based violence and harassment (GBVH) in the potential investee company. It is one of the most harmful forms of gender inequality and unfortunately affects millions of women and girls around the world.

A company may be publicly targeting gender equality, but the threat of GBVH may prevent it from happening – and this is often silent yet forceful. Issues with GBVH can be difficult to identify and to acknowledge, particularly if the management of the company has been neglecting the issue.

Stating zero tolerance is important but not enough

Most of the companies I have been working with genuinely express their support for gender equality and state to have zero tolerance for GBVH. However, the companies often lack actions to actually identify the risks. A closer look may reveal that GBVH is everyday life for part of the staff. The problem in these cases is typically that people who would have the power to make the change, represent the gender that is not under threat of GBVH. This is why they are less likely to notice the prevalent risk factors in their company. In the worst cases, the people in power are part of the problem. In this kind of circumstances, it is a very challenging if not impossible task for the victims to speak up.

Eliminating GBVH from the company starts with the top management that needs to take the first step. The management should acknowledge and admit the situation and actively start changing it as well as clarify and understand what is appropriate and what is not. Then the rest of the staff should be trained on what GBVH is, how it impacts the working community and its victims and what the disciplinary actions are if it happens. Creating awareness is useful, even if GBVH is not currently a problem in the company. It both helps eliminate and prevent GBVH from happening.

Regular complaints are actually a good sign

When management has done its work, maybe the most important means to prevent GBVH in the longer term is a well-functioning grievance mechanism. Well-functioning means that the staff understands the purpose of the mechanism and they feel confident that addressing complaints through it leads to a fair and equal resolution that targets to improve everybody’s well-being and working conditions even on very sensitive issues like GBVH. One sign of a well-functioning grievance mechanism is that it receives complaints regularly. People complain if they feel confident that they are heard and treated fairly. It is important to note that staff surveys can be misleading if the respondents do not trust the anonymity of the survey for example for the reason that they represent a clear minority in the staff and a deviating response could be identified to a certain person.

For us as an impact investor it is clear that targeting gender equality and seeking to close the gender gap has benefits for the business and society – and, as a result, for our investment. We know that if people are not equal and don’t have similar possibilities to do things and access positions in the society, the human resources are not used efficiently. This is, of course, bad for the economy. Further, atmosphere in gender-diverse workplaces is often better and research has shown that diverse teams are more efficient. And lastly, maybe most importantly, inequality is simply unfair.

Lauri Etelämäki
Senior Environmental and Social Adviser


Read more:
How investing in digital infrastructure and solutions helps reduce the gender gap

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