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Social enterprises should be creating jobs for women, people of colour, and youth

The International Labour Office recently released a report that showed that young people and women face some terrific barriers to employment. This isn’t good – barriers to employment entrench divisions based on gender and age and build increasingly unequal societies.

This doesn’t need to be the case – and I think that social enterprises, nonprofits, and other cause-based organizations are uniquely positioned to create jobs for women, people of colour, and youth. We’re positioned to make impacts in society, and this is an impact that needs to be made.

The gap is real, and it’s concerning

The report from the ILO notes that there are some really concerning statistics about employment for young people, women, and people of colour. Here’s some of those concerning stats:

For those young women in the labour market, clear disadvantage is shown in many of the report’s key statistics: higher unemployment rates (in 2014, 13.6 per cent vs. 12.6 per cent globally), persistent wage gaps (young males earned between 1 and 36 per cent more within all sectors and occupations), higher shares in informal employment (75 per cent of female workers aged 25‒29 compared to 73.6 per cent of male workers in the same age band) and longer school-to-work transitions.

Moreover, when there are not enough higher skilled jobs created by economies to provide for all job seekers, it is young women who are most disadvantaged. In the low-income countries surveyed, the gender gap (female-to-male) in the youth unemployment rate among university graduates was 12 percentage points compared to just 3 percentage points for youth with primary education.

This employment gap leads to reinforcing other gender- and age-discriminations and challenges. When young people and women and people of colour are less likely to find work, they’re more likely to be in need of additional support, creating strains on social safety net systems that have generally been cut to the bone across the world.

These employment gaps need to change. They need to be filled.

It just seems that “business as usual” isn’t doing anything about it. That’s where social enterprise, nonprofits and cause-based organizations need to step in.

Being caused-based gives us a change to put impact first

The reasons why young people, women, and people of colour face barriers to employment are varied, but all relate to discriminatory ideas: that women, young people, and people of colour are not as productive, and as such, are not good hires. These assumptions are wrong, but they’re rampant in private business – whether explicitly or not. And because they’re in the minds of business decision makers, those decision makers make decisions that create the barriers to employment. It’s a negative feedback loop.

Here’s where social enterprises can come in. They can break that negative feedback loop, and make a real difference.


It’s because we’re cause-based. Values-driven. We put the impact we want to make in communities first. It’s people over profits.

We have the flexibility as organizations that put people before profits to do things that make differences in communities. We’re accountable to our supporters, our members, and our stakeholders – but we’re accountable for social impact more than just business revenues.

Because of this organizational difference, we can do different things. We can pursue projects that have social impact as a goal, rather than profit returns. And we can do it better.

And if those various slogans aren’t enough to move you, consider that women, young people, and people of colour represent, statistically, a larger proportion of the broader population than older white men. You’re guaranteed to have a wider range of choice of candidates for your jobs, with more diverse backgrounds, and better connections to your customers. It only makes sense.

So what do we need to do?

As social enterprises, nonprofits, and values-based businesses, we need to step up and consciously make decisions in our organizations to see how we can build jobs for marginalized communities; how we can employ women, people of colour, and young people. We can do it because of the values we have put at the heart of what we do.

We just need to step up and do it.

If you’re puzzling about how to do that, get in touch. We can help you build diversity into your recruitment processes, evaluation of opportunities, and organizations.

About Kevin Harding

Kevin Harding is a principal of the Incipe Cooperative, and is a volunteer board member of the Art for Impact Society. He has worked in the nonprofit, public, and cooperative sector for some time, and has a passion for working with coops, nonprofits, and advocacy groups that want to make a better world. A coop developer, he strongly believes that cooperatives can build a better world.

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