Well, here I am again and I am still talking about the United Nations Global Compact meeting that took place in New York from the 18th to the 20th September, 2013[i]. Why am I still talking about this summit you might ask?
Simply because so many things happened there but I haven’t seen much media coverage – it’s a real shame! One of the most stimulating conferences I attended, in the company of Freda Miriklis, International President of the Business and Professional Women[ii] , concerned the Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs) and the role of women in business and in the world.
This meeting was chaired by Mr Pierre Sané, former Secretary General of Amnesty International; here is a man who is a true advocate for women and women’s rights. Pierre Sané opened the discussion by talking about the 610 corporations[iii] that have signed up to the 7 principles of this UN WEPs Initiative[iv]. The Principles are a Partnership Initiative of UN Women[v] [vi] and the UN Global Compact Office. The core idea is to have corporations agree to publicly align their company policies to advance gender equality.
The principles should make sense to business people who understand the importance of diversity, of governance, and of the need to have women in their boards and on their management teams.
It’s not Rocket Science!
It’s not rocket science I can hear some of you say- well no, it isn’t – it makes good business sense. So why is it taking so long to move this issue into the boardroom? Why are women not taking their place in business and in the world? I felt this conference might help me understand…
Amina Mohammed, Special Advisor to the UN Special Advisor on Post 2015 Development Planning, talked about the necessity for more men and young women to move this issue forward. “Gender Equality and women’s empowerment are” according to this lady “a matter of Justice and Human Rights”!
She put forward some important facts and figures: the fact that there are 1.3 billion people on the poverty line; the impact of the increase of GDP if women were paid a fair salary. Fortune 500 companies, according to Ms Mohammed, say that the GDP of companies’ increases by 34% when women are in the company. Furthermore, she said, there is still a shortage of women in the corporate world and, she added, we need to do something about that.
John Hendra, Deputy Executive Director of Policy of UN Women[vii] feels that that the 21st century must be the century “where commitments become a reality and gender gaps are closed”[viii]. Mr Hendra cited Booz and Allen[ix] who estimate that there are a billion women who have potential to contribute more fully to their national economies. He added that Goldman Sachs estimate that closing the gap between male and female employment would boost GDP by 5% in the US and 9% in Japan!
Unlocking the Potential of Women
Furthermore, added Mr Hendra “unlocking the potential of women could lead to a 14% rise in per capital incomes in China, Russia, Indonesia and Vietnam and Korea” [x]- So, what are we waiting for?
Freedom from violence, distribution of resources, reduction of infant mortality, gender equality in the private and public sector were all touched upon by the representative of the UN Women. Women on boards will lead to higher profits, says John Hendra. However, although there are 35% of women on boards in Norway, there are 2% of women on boards in Japan! The overall statistics do not look promising!
Senapathy Gopalakrishnan, the executive vice chairman (former co-chairman) of Infosys[xi], a global consulting and IT services company- the third largest of its type in India – spoke eloquently about his work with regards to women employees – his work is impressive.
He talked about the cultural challenges he faced and faces in the workplace in India. Infosys, a company with 150,000 employees has 34% of women in the workforce; in 2003 the female workforce represented only 19%. This gentleman spoke of his work to create a safe, harassment free workplace for women, a system based on meritocracy, with policies and processes, with a leadership vision and a mentorship program. He spoke of the attention he pays to childcare possibilities, the necessity to bridge the talent gap at university and the importance of influencing government and policy makers to ensure equal opportunity. This is a man who deserves much credit, a businessman who understands talent and opportunity, and the business case for women in the workplace.
Empowering Women through Trade
Meg Jones, Women and Trade program manager at International Trade Centre[xii], talked about the significant economic and development gains to be achieved through policies and practices that enhance women’s capacity to trade and she talked about how to empower women through trade. Access to financial options, the business case for employing women, investing in women’s’ employment were subjects touched on in the discussion that took place.
Pierre Sané, gave the closing address in no uncertain terms. “This “he stated “is not just a question of a nice thing to do, it is a question of human rights.” Furthermore “All studies show that women’s empowerment adds to the wealth of companies and to the wealth of countries. It is time to take action”, he said. How right you are, Mr Sané. We have the tools, the women’s vendor platform[xiii], and the Women’s Empowerment principles to name but a few. Let’s get moving….
[vi] In July 2010, the United Nations General Assembly created UN Women, the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women. In doing so, UN Member States took an historic step in accelerating the Organization’s goals on gender equality and the empowerment of women. See more at: http://www.unwomen.org/en/about-us/about-un-women#sthash.17sHXWBL.dpuf