Profile: Lauren Shields ’04, empowering women

Building inclusive workplaces - Lauren Shields ’04 works to help women achieve equality

 Lauren Shields ’04 leads an exercise at a BSR conference.

Lauren Shields ’04 leads an exercise at a BSR conference.

Lauren Shields ’04 has been based in Paris since 2011, where she works for BSR, a global nonprofit organization working with more than 250 member companies and other partners to build a sustainable world. As the leader of BSR’s HERproject programs in East Africa, Shields builds inclusive workplaces in global supply chains. She also acts as global lead for Impact and Influence for HERproject and contributes to BSR’s women’s empowerment practices. With a focus on sustainability in emerging markets, Shields has led research projects on value chain development and women’s empowerment in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Vietnam. She spoke with Alumni Horae editor Jana Brown.

What drew you to this line of work and BSR?

I’ve long had an interest in the linkages between international development and business. I’ve had the opportunity to work on these issues from different perspectives – as an intern working on international trade issues in the U.S. Senate, working at a research organization on economic migration, and conducting research in Vietnam on access to markets for smallholder farmers. Working for the HERproject was a chance to continue working on these issues, and apply more of a gender lens to the work. 

What is your role with BSR?

One of the big parts of my role is as a translator and partnership broker between different actors. HERproject is a global collaboration between 50+ brands in apparel, consumer electronics, and food and beverages. At HERproject, we focus on supply chains that are highly feminized, so 80 percent of the workers in factories and farms where we implement programs are women. The interventions themselves take place in factories and farms and are implemented by local NGOs in the 14 countries where we work. Our programs focus on some of the most critical issues for women workers – enabling access to family planning, helping women become part of the formal financial system, or gender relations and sexual harassment to ensure a safe working environment. 

Why is women’s empowerment important for sustainability?

Women’s empowerment is one of those no-brainer issues for business. Women are half of the world’s population. Ensuring that women participate equally with men in economic and social life is essential for the good of our societies and for the future of any business. No country on earth has achieved full gender equality, and the evidence shows we’re more than 100 years away. Expanded opportunities for women translates to stronger individuals, families, communities, and economies. Business can’t afford not to act.

Why is women’s empowerment particularly important in Africa?

I’m most familiar with Ethiopia and Kenya, so I’ll speak to that. Ethiopia and Kenya are tremendously dynamic countries, and there are lots of fascinating new opportunities, especially for young people. There’s a real sense of entrepreneurship and innovation, whether it’s a young woman setting up a side business in a local market or new technologies changing how farmers do their business. For these countries to continue to grow and bring more of their populations out of poverty, women need to be full participants and partners.