NEW YORK - Declaring that gender equality in the private sector is “good for business”, 167 chief executives from around the world have signed the Women’s Empowerment Principles — Equality Means Business. UN Women and UN Global Compact, champions of the initiative, released the list of executives today at the Equality Means Business: Putting Principles into Practice conference. It marked the first anniversary of the launch of the principles.
Opening the two-day event, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon commended CEOs who have signed the principles, but also challenged business leaders to do much more: “We would like to see this leadership community grow exponentially, forming national coalitions to advance these goals across sectors, as they are starting to do in Brazil and elsewhere,” the Secretary-General said.
Michelle Bachelet, former President of Chile and the first Executive Director of UN Women, said: "Gender equality is not only a basic human right, but as business, economic and development experts now agree, empowering women fuels economies and social progress. The Women’s Empowerment Principles offer a tool for a results-based partnership with the business community."
"The private sector increasingly identifies investing in women as a vital business strategy, essential to innovation, sound management and increased profits," said Georg Kell, Executive Director of the UN Global Compact. "By turning the principles into practice, companies create a blueprint for equality that strengthens existing efforts, focuses on implementation and helps create sustainable value."
The business case for gender diversity and equality has rapidly developed. Among Fortune 500 companies, those in the top quartile, when it comes to women’s representation on their boards, outperform those in the lowest quartile by at least 53 percent on return on equity.
Many executives acknowledge that it is difficult to change corporate cultures to fully integrate gender equality, however. While 72 percent of executives surveyed in 2010 by McKinsey & Co. agreed that there is a correlation between gender diversity and business success, only 28 percent said it is a top-ten priority for senior leadership.
Since the Women’s Empowerment Principles were launched just one year ago, companies report that the CEO commitment has stimulated activities to promote gender equality. One company changed its recruitment policies to seek a higher percentage of female candidates for all jobs. Another company altered procurement practices to include more women vendors.
Companies have pointed out that the lack of data broken down for men and women hampers efforts to measure progress, and have called on UN Women and the UN Global Compact to work with them on a reporting framework aligned with the Women’s Empowerment Principles.