Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is a concept used most commonly in business management and economics and refers to the way that companies can integrate social and environmental concerns into business operations.
What is CSR?
CSR is often understood as a self-regulating business model that helps companies be accountable to themselves, their stakeholders and the public. By practicing CSR, companies are conscious of, and maintain the balance between, these three aspects of society -- economic, social and environmental -- while also addressing the expectations of shareholders and stakeholders. Key issues that can be targeted through CSR include environmental management, eco-efficiency, responsible sourcing, stakeholder engagement, labour standards and working conditions, social equity, human rights, good governance, and the promotion of gender equality in the workplace. A properly driven CSR programme allows for a variety of competitive advantages such as enhanced access to capital and markets, increased sales and profits, cost savings, improved productivity and quality, efficient use of Human Resources and finally, better decision making and risk management processes.
The Triple Bottom Line approach has been used to measure a corporation's commitment to CSR. It ensures that companies measure their social and environmental impacts, along with their financial performances, rather than focusing purely on generating profit. It involved three features:
Profit: A company's financial performance
People: A company's social focus and commitment to the society
Planet: A company's environmental impacts.
CSR has been seen as a key way for businesses and companies to achieve and promote gender equality. Oftentimes, this is seen through equal access to job opportunities and the equality of treatment for all genders.
How does CSR relate to gender equality in the workplace?
Gender equality in the workplace has been defined as enabling employees of all genders to have access to the same rewards, opportunities and resources at a company. This includes things like equal pay and benefits for comparable roles with similar responsibilities, equal opportunities for promotions and career progression and an equal consideration of needs . The benefits of workplace gender equality are wide ranging, including, the promotion of a positive company culture, more innovation and creativity, improved conflict resolutions and the building of a good and respected company reputation.
CSR can be a valuable tool to addressing gender inequality in workplaces. Traditionally, gender inequality in the workplace has contributed to many problems such as, segregation, wage discrimination and the impeding of female career progression, despite education and qualifications. Workplace gender equality is a core pillar of CSR with companies nowadays increasingly addressing it within their work agendas. These programmes focus mostly on the experiences of women, giving particular attention to their rights, equal pay, sexual harassment and discrimination.
There are many examples of different companies using CSR to achieve gender equality in their workplaces:
Salesforce: In 2015, the company started to audit its pay practices to eliminate any gender discrepancies. In March of the same year, the company announced that around 6% of its 17,000 employees were impacted, and that it had spent $3 million to bring the underpaid workers (both men and women) to parity with their peers.
Deloite: Announced its new 16-week family leave benefit in September 2017, being praised for its forward thinking with a policy that will help the company recruit and retain talent.
Hilton Worldwide: In 2015, the company announced its new policy, offering 2-10 weeks of paid parental leave to all staff, from hotel employees to corporate staff, along with those working part-time and hourly.
Macy's: CEO and Chairman Terry Lungren has been very firm-standing in his desire to have his retailer reflect those that shop there. Thus, half of the 12 board directors are women; two members are Africa-American, one is Asian-American and one is Hispanic.
What are the benefits associated with CSR and gender equality in the workplace?
There are many gains associated with CSR and achieving gender equality in the workplace. It is important that employers are aware of this so that they can use CSR to promote workplace gender equality as best as they can. Here are a few of the benefits:
A better economy
Women spend double the amount of time as men doing unpaid work such as caregiving and unpaid tasks, something which prevents them from participating fully in the economy. Mckinsey estimates that if more women were able to fully participate in paid work, and earn equal pay, they could add $28 trillion to GDP by 2025.
Gender equal workforces have many benefits for productivity and efficiency. Having more women working for companies enables a diversity of views, leading to better decisions and higher achievement.
Increased growth and innovation
For companies to growth, innovation and creativity is important. Research has shown how a gender equal workforce that is empowering and bias-free can lead to an innovation mindset. Key aspects of this are the willingness to get inspired from beyond the organisation, work across the organisation and the desire to experiment.
More flexible working
A more flexible work culture is beneficial, especially in countries where women do the bulk of unpaid caring, something which negatively impacts their career and income prospects. Data from Flexjobs, a job searching website, also found that 85% of businesses enjoyed higher productivity with flexible working. 
Improved customer targeting
Women are responsible for 70-80% of consumer purchasing.  However, in a typical workplace, they are not involved at all in making top-level decisions about product development and marketing. Having women as part of the team and involved on all levels of decision making is beneficial as it enables a focus on a significant segment of the customer base.
Improved company reputation
Especially influenced by CSR, consumers care more about the ethics and social responsibility of companies. In the UK, a quarter of UK consumers will not buy from a brand if they are disappointed, something which could be caused by the lack of (gender) equality in companies. 
CSR and Workplace Gender Equality in the UK
In 2019, the Government Equalities Office published a report on women’s progression in the workplace, looking at the barriers and interventions involved to achieve this. 
The barriers included:
Networks- These tend to be male dominated and decide who should be promoted within companies. Networking also takes place out of hours, making them less accessible to women who have household responsibilities.
Social Cloning- Those that are in positions of power often champion those that look like themselves. This tends to disadvantage women as men are mostly in the dominant positions of work.
Lack of Standards- Some companies lack clear regulations and standards for pay and promotion, making it hard for employees to know exactly what they need to progress, or to realise when they are being undervalued.
The interventions to support women included:
Transparency and formalisation
Training managers in the implementation of processes
Senior figures should have the oversight of pay and promotion
Taking steps to ensure that objective criteria are used when making promotion decisions.
In the UK, most CSR initiatives that refer to gender equality do so in respect to the workplace. This can be seen through Opportunity Now, a campaign on gender diversity. Founded in 1991, it aims to increase women’s success at work based on CSR principles; doing this is not only good for business but also for the society as well. Its main focus is to maximise the potential of female employees and improve their recruitment. Opportunity Now has argued that the effective advancement of women in the workplace requires:
Gender equality as linked to business initiatives
Gender specific data and action in areas such as recruitment, retention, turnover, promotion and maternity care.
CSR and Workplace Gender Equality in Vietnam
CSR was first introduced in Vietnam recently through the activities of NGOs and multinational companies, making it a very new concept. According to a CSR survey conducted by SRI Vietnam in 2009, 90% of respondents misunderstood the idea of CSR and related issues. Their perception towards CSR along with other ethical behaviours was unknown despite the country suffering serious consequences caused by corporations in the last few years. There was also a lack of in- depth knowledge and research about CSR in Vietnam, which led to inaccurate news and articles being used to influence consumers and governmental departments. CSR programmes were often cited as public relations activities.
On the business side, a lack of resources and commitment for CSR was a major issue. Many local companies resisted change and wanted to maintain their conventional thinking. They were also driven by short term incentives to make money, rather than the long-term ones advocated for by CSR. These companies often view CSR as only for the ‘big, multinational corporations in the developed world’, making them ‘not relevant for a developing country’.
Nevertheless, nowadays the CSR picture in Vietnam is promising. The government and enterprises are the two main players in the promotion of CSR in Vietnam. Public awareness and pressure from importers have also contributed to this growing interest in CSR. Furthermore, gender equality in the workplace was not efficiently addressed. However, in 2019, the government renewed its Labour Code, reaffirming its commitment to gender equality within the workplace. Here are 5 reforms that went into effect in 2021.
Equal pay for equal work
Vietnam’s 2016 Labour Force Survey revealed that women receive 10.7% less than men, with the gender wage gap standing at 8.1% for unskilled female workers and 19.7% for female employees with higher education qualifications. The amended Labour Code maintains the payment of equal wages for work of equal value.
Equal access to jobs
In 2019, legislation denied female workers access to 77 jobs based on sex, pregnancy, or child caretaking responsibilities. The amended labour Code removed these prohibitions, and instead, gave women the right to choose an occupation suitable for them.
Paid paternity leave
Only women workers in Vietnam receive paid parental leave to care for sick children younger than 7 years old, perpetuating the stereotype that women are the primary caretakers of their children, something which disallows them from contributing to the labour force. The Labour Code entitled male employees to paid paternity leave so that this responsibility is equal.
Addressing discriminatory barriers
The Code includes protections against discrimination based on marital status, pregnancy, disability and more. Female workers can now take daily breaks to breastfeed children younger than 12 months old. During menstruation, women can take a 30-minute break.
The law defined harassment as including any form of physical, verbal, nonverbal or sexual harassment which occurred in any work-related location.
Implementing a strong CSR policy demonstrates social and environmental responsibility for the wider community in which businesses operate whilst meeting the requirements of shareholders to ensure the longevity of operations. Companies with greater gender equality are able to boost productivity, improve employee satisfaction and retention therefore saving on hiring costs, uphold company reputation and customer loyalty. Overall, the benefits contribute to business development and the wellbeing of both employees and the wider community.
To find out more about what your business can do to improve gender equality in the workplace, email firstname.lastname@example.org
By Harkiran Bharij, Research Hub Member | LinkedIn