Gender Equality in the Workplace: SCORE contributes to gender equality in SMEs in developing countries

Article | 01 December 2015

International Women’s Day (8th March 2016) provides a fresh reminder that women all over the world still face significant barriers and inequalities in the world of work. A number of recent studies - UN Women 2015, McKenzie’s Women Matter and ILO’s 2015 “Women in Business and Management: Gaining Momentum”- confirm (yet again) that wage inequalities continue, with women earning 24% less than men (UN Women 2015). McKinsey’s global institute 2015 report focuses on the power of gender parity, highlighting the cost of these inequalities to individual companies and to countries/national growth and the added value that correcting these would bring. For example, the report makes the case of how advancing women’s equality could add as much as 12USD trillion (11 percent) to global growth, in annual 2025 GDP (McKinsey MIG, September 2015).

The ILO has long supported the fight for equality in the world of work, through the development and promotion of labour standards, gender focused campaigns – such as the Women at Work Century Initiative W@W - support for the efforts of ILO constituents, and through country-level initiatives that focus upon or strongly incorporate the drive for gender equality.

The SCORE Equality Agenda

The SCORE programme focuses on small and medium enterprises and which is now in its second phase, has been determined to play its part in this effort. SCORE works with national and sectorial partners in 9 countries to improve working conditions, productivity and workplace cooperation in SMEs. SCORE Training, which forms the heart of the programme, combines classroom training for employees and managers (jointly) with in-factory support. Gender has been mainstreamed into the programme’s strategy, activities and communications, and so it is fully embedded in all of the programme’s work as well as in the Training content. The gender specific objective the programme team is working towards includes: achieving a gender-balanced participation among trainers and trainees; ensuring the voices of women (and men) are heard & valued in the enterprise, and; improving gender-related workplace practices, such as recruitment practices, breast-feeding policies and facilities, occupational health, access to training.

Importantly, by raising awareness of gender issues among managers and employees in the joint training and by reinforcing this during follow-up support visits, the programme has also led to pro-equality changes on the factory floor. Just a few examples of these impacts, from SMEs in Indonesia, Peru, Colombia and Ghana are shared below.

SCORE Enterprise-level impacts

Mubaroq Cipta Delicia (MCD) is an Indonesian food and beverages SME that completed all five SCORE Training Modules. As part of their training, SMEs such as MCD are encouraged to identify and carry out initiatives that will improve equality between men and women. In the case of MCD, this translated into incorporating a number of gender sensitive initiatives relating to their operations and facilities. For example the company separated male and female toilets for the first time; revised the recruitment policies to focus more on competencies and less on gender assumptions that a particular job is for a male or female, and began including female staff for the first time in enterprise outdoor activities, that enhanced the working relationships between managers and workers. They also introduced two important innovations relating to parental care responsibilities: men now have the right to time off so they can be with their partner during the birth of their child and “nursery corners” have been established, allowing nursing mothers to have a quiet and private place breastfeed.

In Peru, Fundo El Paraíso and Fundo San Miguel, two SMEs in the agro-industry sector have followed SCORE Module 1 and are currently (February 2016) enrolled in Module 2. In these companies, hiring policies and job descriptions have been reviewed and updated to increase competency-based recruitment. This initiative was proposed while Fundo San Miguel was receiving follow-up visits from the SCORE Trainer for SCORE Module 1 (on workplace cooperation), but assumptions about the ability of women to perform certain jobs (particularly fruit picking which was an all-male domain) were a barrier to change. To overcome these misconceptions, the company agreed to trial women in fruit picking roles. The results showed that women were equal, and sometimes better able to perform this activity, picking the fruit with more care and attention.

The outcome of this trial was a complete revision of the job descriptions and hiring policies to incorporate more women into fruit picking roles. The results obtained from Fundo San Miguel cascaded into the application of the same practice in another SME in the region: Fundo El Paraíso.

In Colombia, the textile company Estampados Color Screen, which has followed three SCORE Training Modules, including the Module addressing occupational safety and health. The initiatives taken here have included making it possible for women to change or rotate their roles during pregnancy in order to avoid fatigue and to decrease the risk of accidents or exposure to dangerous environments.

In Ghana ARN Manufacturing Ltd., an SME dedicated to manufacturing CDs and DVDs which has followed 3 of the 5 SCORE Training modules, incorporated several gender practices as a result of the training. For example, the enterprise made the fire service training exercise available to all women that was previously only offered to male workers. In so doing, it did not only incorporated gender awareness into its operations but also enhanced the capacity of all its employees (men and women) to respond in case of a fire emergency. In addition, after considering the company location, female workers are no longer assigned night duties, as the conditions are considered unsafe for women. The enterprise thus takes its both male and female worker’s well-being into consideration, improving working conditions, team spirit and morale in the workplace.

SCORE Gender Equality Results

The focus of the programme on gender equality issues has so far shown good results. For example 284 of Enterprise Improvement teams include both men and women, and almost all SCORE countries are meeting the target of 30% female trainers, a good achievement bearing in mind that the pool of female candidates with industry experience is small in some of our active training sectors (particularly engineering and wood processing). Importantly, the programme donors, SECO and NORAD, are enthusiastic about the practical approach the programme has taken and the recent independent mid-term evaluation has classified the progress made in gender mainstreaming in the SCORE programme as “impressive” considering the timeframe and constraints. 

While more works needs to be done around the globe to get to equality in 2030, the SCORE programme will continue its efforts...


OECD, Promoting entrepreneurship and innovative SMEs in a global economy: towards a more responsible and inclusive globalisation; Istanbul, Turkey 3-5 June 2004; available at

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McKinsey&Company, Women Matter 2013 “Gender diversity in top management: moving corporate culture, moving boundaries”; Paris November 2013; available at:

McKinsey&Company; “The power of parity: how advancing women’s equality can add $12 trillion to global growth”; McKinsey Global Institute, September 2015; Available at:

International Labour Organisation (ILO); Women at Work, ILO Centenary Initiative; “Delivering on decent work for women” Draft Proposal; Geneva November 2015