Corporate Actors’ Interpretations of the Sustainable Development Agenda for Gender Equality: A Critical Discourse Analysis
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Achieving gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls (SDG 5) is essential to the sustainable development agenda. Despite the importance of achieving this goal, women continue to face systemic barriers to equality and empowerment. Earlier progress made towards SDG 5 has been threatened by COVID 19, and the pandemic has disproportionately negatively impacted women, particularly those with intersectional identities. Corporate actors are accelerating their efforts to address social issues and reducing gender inequality has become a key theme in corporate sustainability reporting. A record number of corporate actors are expressing commitments and policies that specifically aim to advance gender equality internally within the organizational structure, and in the broader environment through philanthropic work. Given that corporate actors are increasingly engaging in sustainability governance, and that SDG 5 is understudied in corporate social responsibility research, this thesis answered the research question of: How do corporate actors interpret SDG 5, both in terms of internal commitments and policies and philanthropic commitments and policies? To answer the research question, this thesis constructed a novel analytical framework that is useful for identifying variations in corporate actors’ interpretations of SDG 5. The analytical framework, which lends from different fields of research including feminist scholarship, is comprehensive as it conceptualizes a variation of perspectives relevant to achieving the SDG 5 agenda. This thesis contributes to corporate social responsibility (CSR) literature by offering a holistic framework and methodology that can be used to unearth often implicit and varying understandings of how SDG 5 can be achieved through corporate collaboration. To see if the analytical framework had expression in empirical study, this thesis used qualitative deductive research methods and three case studies. Corporate discourse, in the form of internal and philanthropic commitments and policies were analyzed. In total, 90 documents in the form of voluntary reports and disclosure documents such as CSR reports, corporate blog posts, and webpages were coded using methods informed by critical discourse analysis. The results of the case studies showcased the potential for the framework and offered empirical examples of corporate actors’ interpretations of SDG 5. Overall, corporate actors’ interpretations of SDG 5 were mostly consistent. A main finding of this research is that the efficiency approach in internal interpretations marginalizes other perspectives related to achieving gender equality. By applying the framework, this thesis also gathered empirical insights related to various corporate actors’ interpretations of SDG 5 in philanthropic work. Among others, this thesis recommends that governments can strengthen existing frameworks aimed at advancing gender equality by accounting for a variation of perspectives related to achieving this social sustainability goal. This will also help to holistically capture corporate actors’ contributions to the achievement of SDG 5.