Approach and Methodology

Approach and Methodology

The XX Factor Framework

Why concentrate on five key dimensions? In reviewing the efforts of dozens of social sector organizations, international development players, major policy initiatives, and research literature, we found two common approaches to understanding improvements in women’s lives. The first focuses on improvements for a specific population of women (e.g., women in low income countries, women in Sub-Saharan Africa, adolescent girls in India), or a specific dimension of a woman’s life (e.g., women’s entrepreneurship, women’s reproductive rights). The second is a broader, comparative approach focused on reducing disparities between men and women in all aspects of life.

For our research, we took the broadest lens, focusing on all populations of women and girls across all dimensions of their lives, with the ultimate goal of improving the lives of as many women and girls as possible, focusing on the highest-impact approaches. Our goal is not only to decrease disparities between genders, but also create positive social impact in absolute terms for women and girls. Therefore, our team highlighted indicators relevant to the most women and girls globally, even if those same issues and indicators apply to and benefit men as well.

Our first step was to establish a framework for understanding the different ways that funders can have an impact on women’s lives. We began by looking at existing frameworks, such as those set forth by organizations like the United Nations (UN) or Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). What we found is that there are many existing frameworks used by different organizations, but no single framework that was used commonly across the field, and none that fit with the broad lens we described above. (For a list of frameworks and sources we reviewed as part of this process, see Appendix.)

Arguably the most widely used framework we found—although not specific to women—was the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are the UN’s global goals around peace, prosperity, and protection of the planet.[7] The SDGs are commonly used as a framework for world improvement and economic development. However, the SDG framework is not specific to women, does not organize the topics that improve women’s lives holistically in one place, and may be overwhelming for our audience, given its nineteen goals.

Therefore, we developed our five dimensions framework by looking for the key areas of overlap in existing frameworks and by examining the evidence on what dimensions of women’s lives matter and why. Our framework synthesizes the research, existing frameworks, and key indicators we reviewed. It is both compatible with other frameworks while more holistically addressing all five key dimensions that funders can influence to improve the lives of women and girls around the world.

Glossary of Commonly Used Terms in this Report

Determinants – This term is used commonly in public health to describe things that influence or determine one’s health status, either positively (protective factors) or negatively (risk factors). The term can also be used in the context of education, economic empowerment, etc. In the context of our project, we first looked at indicators that pointed to improvements in our five dimensions, and then looked for determinants of those improvements.[4]

Gender equality – According to the World Health Organization (WHO), gender equality “refers to equal chances or opportunities for groups of women and men to access and control social, economic, and political resources, including protection under the law (such as health services, education, and voting rights). It is also known as equality of opportunity—or formal equality. Gender equality is often used interchangeably with gender equity, but the two refer to different, complementary strategies that are needed to reduce gender-based inequity.”[5]

Gender equity – According to the WHO, “gender equity refers to the different needs, preferences, and interests of women and men. This may mean that different treatment is needed to ensure equality of opportunity.” Gender equity is “often referred to as substantive equality (or equality of results) and requires considering the realities of women’s and men’s lives.”[6]

Index – An index is a collection of select indicators. For example, organizations such as the World Bank can develop indices for use in measuring country-level development. However, there are many other types of indices, such as those used by individual foundations or nonprofits to measure the outcomes they care about. Examples include the Women’s Foundation of California’s Women’s Well-Being Index or the Social Progress Imperative’s 2016 Social Progress Index. Indices are often associated with a score, or ultimate measure, that is associated with the ultimate outcome one cares about. For example, a country’s overall score on a global development index is an indicator of that country’s overall development.

Indicator – When we talk about indicators for this project, we are talking about social impact measures that help us understand and assess progress against the five dimensions of women’s lives that we’re trying to improve. In this work, we discuss two main types of indicators: 1) those used to measure overall outcomes in each of the five dimensions, and 2) those associated with determinants of those outcomes.

The XX Factor Guidebook

Our core working team included professionals with experience in philanthropy, mainstream financial investing, socially responsible and impact investing, and social impact. To ensure continuity, some of the team members from the original XX Factor project served as analysts and sat on the industry advisory board. Over eight months, the industry advisory board provided insights and guidance at bi-monthly meetings as well as in one-on-one conversations with the working team.

During the course of the project, we participated in various conferences and forums to test hypotheses with practitioners and to ensure that the work would address the needs not just of the representative advisory board members, but also the broader intended audience for this Guidebook.

We conducted structured interviews with 16 stakeholders, including three foundation leaders, four individual investors, four investment advisors, and five investment managers to extract themes and best practices. We coded the interview transcripts to identify themes that guided our analysis of the data and prioritized which concerns to address in this guide.

We also analyzed the data points relevant to women from four data providers— Bloomberg LP; Equileap; MSCI, Inc.; and Thomson Reuters—to see how well they aligned with the XX Factor framework.

In the box is some additional information about the data providers:

Bloomberg LP publishes ESG data on over 10,000 global companies. In 2018, the firm published results from its new Gender Equality Index survey, which collected 60 data points from over 100 companies in four categories: internal employment and female management statistics; internal policies supporting a gender-equal workplace; public support for women in the community; and product offerings supporting women. Bloomberg collects data manually from company filings and websites, and then prepopulates the survey it sends out to each of 9,000 eligible firms for the company to verify and complete.

In 2016, Equileap began gathering data that measure gender balance and equality in companies. It collects the data from publicly available sources and gets additional input from the companies. In 2017, Equileap began to publish 19 data points measuring the gender balance and equality in over 3,000 companies and eight additional data points on 1,000 of those companies. Equileap is currently testing nine additional data points, which will expand its data to cover women’s healthcare in the U.S.

MSCI collects ESG data on almost 8,500 companies from government databases, company disclosures, and macro data from academic, government, and NGO databases. In response to our request, MSCI’s research team provided us with a list of 18 data points they identified as relevant to the XX Factor framework.

Thomson Reuters collects publicly available data on 6,000 companies, as part of its ESG database. We looked at the data points it uses for its Diversity & Inclusion Index, which is based on 24 data points in four categories: diversity, inclusion, news controversies, and people development.


Indices, frameworks, and other sources we reviewed in order to come up with our ‘Five Dimensions of Women’s Lives’ framework:

  • California Women’s Well-Being Index
  • International Center for Research on Women (ICRW)
  • McKinsey Global Institute Global Gender Equality Framework
  • OECD Better Life Index
  • Social Progress Imperative’s 2016 Social Progress Index
  • Social Watch’s Gender Equity Index (GEI)
  • UN Development Programme (UNDP) Gender Inequality Index
  • United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). For example, SDG 5 is to “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.”
  • World Bank Gender Data Portal
  • World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Index (GGI)
  • WORLD Policy Analysis Center (“Closing the Gender Gap”)
  • Women Deliver (global conference)

Our broad, global approach means that not every issue and indicator we highlighted is applicable in every community and region of the world. For example, in this report we used the global definition and measurement of poverty, which differs from how poverty is defined and measured in the U.S. In addition, every location is going to be different when it comes to the areas with the greatest need for philanthropic investment. If you are a donor focusing your philanthropy in the U.S., you would likely look at a different set of health and education issues than you would if you were focusing on South East Asia. Other work from our Center focuses on specific regions of the world, but for this work we took the broadest lens possible.

We also acknowledge that cultural context is extremely important, and that “success for women” is defined differently by women and by societies all around the world. For the purpose of this work, we let available data and existing research literature drive our answers on how to improve the lives of the most women globally. We recognize that cultural and social norms drive behaviors and practices that ultimately affect the success—or failure—of a philanthropic intervention.


[4] World Health Organization. “Chapter 4: Determinants (Risk and Protective Factors) Indicators,” 2004.
[5] World Health Organization. “Gender,” n.d.
[6] World Health Organization. “Gender,” n.d.
[7] United Nations. “Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,” n.d.

For a list of all sources that informed this report, download the full bibliography here.