Four retail companies — CVS Health, Gap Inc., Kering and Walmart de México — landed on the inaugural Bloomberg Gender-Equality Index launched Monday, according to a press release.
The reference index, joined by companies in 10 sectors that are headquartered in 24 countries and regions, measures gender equality across internal company statistics, employee policies, external community support and engagement and gender-conscious product offerings, according to Bloomberg. The index expands on Bloomberg’s similar effort listing financial firms by making it sector-neutral.
Companies interested in participating in the index (which is not ranked and is not for use as a financial benchmark) submitted a social survey created by Bloomberg in partnership with third-party experts Catalyst, Women’s World Banking, Working Mother Media, National Women’s Law Center and National Partnership for Women & Families. Those included this year scored at or above a global threshold established by Bloomberg to reflect disclosure and the achievement or adoption of best-in-class statistics and policies.
There is perhaps no better time than now for this yardstick, though there are limitations to its usefulness: The survey and the index are voluntary, the data used for it is for "reference purposes only," and there’s no ranking.
Still, at a moment when women are demanding accountability on issues from equal pay to sexual harassment, the information is a sober, neutral way for investors, customers and employees to judge how companies are doing in several areas of their business, including marketing, employment, executive leadership and board makeup.
The companies on the index are doing pretty well compared to many in the world. In the aggregate, for example, 2018 GEI members have a 26.2% representation on boards — more than the average 12.7% in Bloomberg’s environmental, social and governance analysis of businesses’ sustainability and ethical impact. Women in the GEI member firms hold 26% of senior leadership positions, 19% of executive officer roles and earned 46% of promotions in 2016.
And these firms have rapidly improved, increasing the percentage of executive level positions held by women by 33.5% from 2014 to 2016, for example, and are working to improve further. More than two thirds (67%) evaluate their advertising and marketing content for gender biases prior to publication and a similar number (65%) are signatories to, or members of organizations advocating for gender equality.
Given the importance of women to retail as both customers and employees, it’s surprising to see so few on the inaugural index. Gap Inc. took the opportunity to boast about its inclusion Monday in a company blog post written by Laura Wilkinson, Gap Inc. global corporate affairs.
"Gender dynamics and conversations about equal representation in the workplace are hot topics in the collective cultural headspace right now to be sure, but at Gap Inc., we’ve been focused on advancing gender equality for nearly five decades, since Doris and Don Fisher first founded Gap back in 1969," she said. Four years ago Gap Inc. became the first Fortune 500 company to report equal pay for equal work across its organization worldwide, Wilkinson noted. “From store managers to division presidents, from our female global management team members to the women who have run and helped to grow each of our iconic brands over the years, women have had a seat at the leadership table since the beginning."
Other retailers may be keen on submitting to and working toward inclusion on the index in the future — but that may take leadership from the very top. Best Buy chairman and CEO Hubert Joly suggested as much at NRF's Big Show last week. (Best Buy isn’t on Bloomberg’s new index and he wasn't speaking about it in particular.)
While today roughly half of Joly's direct reports and 40% of the company's board are women, he said that there’s more to be done and that it’s the job of the chief executive to make sure that it is. "The fact that we have good gender diversity at the top cannot hide the fact we have a lot of progress to make throughout the company from a gender standpoint and with people of color," he said. "As CEOs, we have an imperative to act on this. This issue is in our hands."