Equitable Workplaces: Evidence & Action

By Ruth Shaber, MD, President and Founder, Tara Health Foundation

October 2019

One of our guiding principles at Tara Health is centering our work on evidence-based approaches. It seems simple enough. As a doctor, any medication I prescribed to a patient had to first been vetted by testing, science and a lengthy federal approval process. As a scientist, my theories had to be built on a foundation of validated ideas already well-proven by respected peers or authorities. And so on.

In an ideal world, evidence-based research can be used to create innovative new cancer medicines or proving groundbreaking ideas on women’s health outcomes. In reality, translating what researchers discover in labs and universities into tangible change is difficult. It can happen at an excruciatingly slow pace. And sometimes it fails to happen at all.

At Tara Health, we see this as a lost opportunity. Wouldn’t it be a shame if research on the dangers of cigarette use had never been translated into the laws, regulations and cultural changes we see now? What if the discovery of penicillin had been left in the laboratory and never mass produced and distributed? Certainly we’d be worse off in terms of our country’s health outcomes. This is partly why Tara Health has funded studies like the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine’s report on the safety of abortion. We believe in the importance of an evidence base being built, especially when the current one is nonexistent or insufficient. But how do we make sure the research is getting used?

We live our values through 100% mission alignment, and we also do it by deploying the findings discovered through the investment research we’ve funded. One of our leading examples of this has been in the evolution and eventual creation of our newest workstream, Equitable Workplaces. Here’s how our values and research formed the path we’ve crossed to get here:

  • 100% Mission Alignment. Tara Health’s beginnings were centered around making sure our entire portfolio was good for women. Naturally, we asked how to know whether our investments — whether in publicly traded corporations or new contraceptive technologies — were good for women.
  • Finding too many blank spaces. We discovered most of the criteria investors used to evaluate whether or not a corporation was good for women was usually based on how many women were on the board of directors or in executive roles. This was wholly unsatisfactory in its failure to tell the full story of whether or not a company is for the women it employs, or communities in which it operates.
  • Making research grants! As we continued our work in gender lens impact investing, the lack of clarity on what’s good for women became painfully clear. We began to make grants into deep research that could develop new criteria that were proven to be meaningful, with an eye on helping further develop the fields of gender lens investing and impact. We also hoped to develop evidence-based standards that investors could use to make sure their dollars were doing good for women and girls.
    • First, define what’s good. With our support, the Center for High Impact Philanthropy (CHIP) at the University of Pennsylvania created The XX Factor. The report examines the inequalities and opportunities experienced by women and girls, providing the first comprehensive and evidence-based framework to help funders take action: economic empowerment, education, health, legal rights and personal safety.
    • Spread awareness of what research shows. We began sharing XX Factor with our partners like Equileap, which has developed a gender equity scorecard for investors, and MerrillLynch, which has used the framework to help Tara Health become 100% mission aligned.
    • Uncover the next hurdle: What’s good for women at work? We honed in on the economic empowerment piece of the XX Factor’s framework, and asked a research team at the Wharton Social Impact Initiative to build on CHIP’s work and focus on what’s good for women in the workplace. This led to Four for Women: A Framework for Evaluating Companies’ Impact on the Women They Employ which identifies the four critical factors that positively impact female employees: Representation, pay, health, and satisfaction.

And finally, the biggest piece, which is putting what researchers — and we — learned into action. Now that we know what’s good for women at work, we are investing in putting that information to use in the following ways:

  • Data on whether or not workplaces are living up to those standards. Tara Health has invested in grantees like Equileap, which produced a 2019 report on U.S. corporations performance on gender equity and healthcare; Grab Your Wallet Alliance; and LedBetter. We continue to ask: How can there be more data for women’s health and well-being in the workplace? We want more transparency and accountability.
  • Products that create better workplaces and environments for women. Tara Health has invested in companies like tEQuitable, which has created a product that helps employees safely report harassment and discrimination, and As You Sow, which created a Gender Equality Funds tool that allows investors to discover which mutual funds they are invested in have been rated as good or bad for women.
  • Workplaces are a huge lever for women’s health and well-being. They are where women are spending more of their time. They provide income. They can provide economic stability. They can provide healthcare access or insurance access or other important benefits like parental and sick leave. They can also provide safety, satisfaction and access to opportunity.
  • As our country and worlds’ biggest employers and workplaces, corporations are an important lever for change. That is why Tara Health has added new staff to focus on the workplace. We're pleased to have Jen Stark now onboard as our Senior Director of Corporate Strategy. Everyone deserves to work in an environment that is positive for their health and well-being. Jen and the whole team at Tara Health is striving towards a world in which employers are just as passionate about equitable workplaces and women’s health and well-being as we are.

We’re excited to keep putting research and evidence-backed findings to use. Learn more about our approach to philanthropy and portfolio of investments and grants on our site. Tara Health is proud to be supporting action and progress towards what science and research has told us will demonstrably improve the lives of women and girls, and are looking forward to continuing this work.