Prosperity, Equal Opportunity & Human Rights

Women shape the future of responsible businesses

Caterina Meloni - USAID Green Invest Asia | Apr 24, 2018


USAID Green Invest Asia hosted a “Women Shaping the Future of Responsible Businesses” roundtable at the Responsible Business Forum in Jakarta on March 28, 2018.

Session organizers discussed the business case for increased women’s participation along cocoa and rice value chains in Southeast Asia – “the why” – and shared concrete examples of “how” to implement gender strategies at the producer and the employee levels.

The roundtable featured two guest speakers:

  • Andi Sitti Asmayanti, Director of Cocoa Life Southeast Asia, Mondelēz International; and
  • Dr. Sonia Akter, Assistant Dean of Research and Assistant Professor, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore.


“We believe that companies that invest in women are more successful. Mondelēz International has a gender diversity program that allowed us to reach 50 percent of women in senior management positions in Indonesia and women‘s empowerment has been mainstreamed throughout the Cocoa Life program.  Research shows that when women have more access to training and are more engaged in the production process, overall productivity goes. With Cocoa Life we have seen productivity gains of 10 percent in Indonesia,” says Andi Sitti Asmayanti, Director of Cocoa Life Southeast Asia, Mondelēz International

How promoting a stronger role for women affects business growth and performance:

  • Increased productivity and innovation. Companies with higher levels of gender diversity are more innovative and can expect higher productivity. In Indonesia, Cocoa Life – Mondelēz’s sustainability program – has seen average cocoa yields go up by 10 percent after increasing women’s access to information and knowledge.
  • Increased production. Men and women play different roles and perform different tasks in agriculture value chains. Training women and men allows for production efficiency to improve along the entire supply chain, not only selected nodes.
  • Improved seed management. According to research on rice farming in Southeast and South Asia conducted by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), when women have higher decision-making power in the household, the choice of seed variety improves, leading to increased product nutritional value. Also, women are comparatively more apt to adopt new technologies once they have had access to information and training.

How can businesses promote gender diversity and better opportunities for women in agriculture?

  • Top management support and commitment is key. Promoting a more inclusive culture among producers and within agricultural businesses is a long-term endeavour requiring full support from a company’s top leadership.
  • Understand key gaps and opportunities. Before a business designs a gender diversity and/or women’s economic empowerment program, it needs to conduct a gender analysis to have a clear picture of the key gender gaps and opportunities along its value chain/s and within its company. Gender issues are highly context-specific and can vary considerably from country to country and between different communities within a country.
  • Increase women’s participation and decision-making. In many agricultural value chains, women perform a large share of the farming work – 40 percent of total farming in the case of cocoa and rice – and bring specialized knowledge and expertise on those tasks. By substantially increasing women’s participation in the decision-making process, businesses will be able to take full advantage of this expertise, which is now largely un- or under-utilized.
  • Access to information, training, and networks are key. To enhance women’s participation along value chains, businesses need to ensure that women in farming households have access to information, and to technical and business training. This requires having enough female extension officers (who are predominantly male) and targeting “farming households” rather than “farmers” for trainings, as “farmer” has usually a male connotation. To facilitate women’s active inclusion in business networks and producer organization, a useful step is to show the business case of engaging women to male members. This is particularly important in conservative communities.
  • Peer support groups, coaching, and training opportunities. Mondelēz Indonesia has reached gender parity in senior management – women occupy 50 percent of senior management positions. This was achieved through a series of initiatives aimed at promoting a supportive environment and one where women felt valued and actively encouraged to advance. Training in conscious and unconscious biases is also essential to promote fair hiring and promotion practices.
  • Promote “Men-streaming”. Men need to be part of the solution and should take part in gender discussions and initiatives. This is important for any kind of intervention to promote gender equality, either at the producer or employee level.
  • A holistic approach is required. Gender diversity and women’s empowerment interventions need to be integrated throughout the value chain. They cannot be limited to and executed only along some nodes. At Cocoa Life, women’s empowerment has been mainstreamed throughout its five focus areas.

How to measure impact?

  • Focus on measuring access to key resources. Women’s empowerment is an abstract concept and hence challenging to measure. Gauging decision-making power in the household – one of the key domains of empowerment – is particularly hard. Household surveys are typically used to measure decision-making power but they usually produce inaccurate responses and are intrusive. An easier and more effective way to gauge empowerment is to measure access to key resources, i.e. access to income opportunities, access to decision-making positions in networks and organizations, and access to training. A qualitative survey (focus groups) should complement the data collection exercise. Mondelēz uses an independent third party to measure impact of the Cocoa Life program.
  • The process of “empowering women” is not linear and requires lots of trial and error. Most agricultural value chains are male-dominated, with fixed roles assigned to women and men and producer organizations typically dominated by men. Promoting a stronger role for women often requires working with several community stakeholders – government, producer organizations, women’s groups – to introduce a new equilibrium and ensure that all parties are on board. It involves lots of trial and error and needs to be heavily tailored to each specific community. There are no easy cookie cutter solutions and thus a learning plan needs to be incorporated into any monitoring framework. 


This article is based on the discussion outcomes at our gender breakfast roundtable at the RBF Jakarta 2018.


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