Why WEP matters: The UN Women’s Empowerment Principles – one year later
By Greg Pellegrino - April 12, 2011
It is a universal maxim that there is strength in numbers. While it’s great when one company commits to investing in women—it’s even better when that number is 170. That’s how many CEOs have now signed the United Nation’s Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEP). And as evidenced by the UN’s one-year commemoration of the launch of WEP last month, that number seems likely to grow.
This event, where I participated as a panelist, took the importance of WEP to a new level. More than 150 executives attended the conference, from such well-known companies as Banco de Brasil, Calvert Asset Management, and Novo Nordisk. The UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, himself opened the meeting—and there were nearly as many men as women in attendance.
All of this underscored a palpable sense of urgency that seemed to pervade the conference. An urgency that the time to invest in women is now. Not in a year or two when the economy recovers. Not when the dust settles after various laws and regulations take effect, but now. If you want to grow your economy or business and stay competitive, you need to start taking the role of women in organizations and in leadership roles more seriously—and focus on intentional change.
This event and WEP do just that. They take the concept of empowering women out of the realm of doing good and into the reality of doing business. The Women’s Empowerment Principles—as noted by Georg Kell, Executive Director of the Global Compact, the UN initiative that promotes good global corporate citizenship—are an incredible example of public-private partnership where ideas developed by the UN are now being translated into actual, deliberate action by the private sector. Actions that apply the principles to such concrete business practices as managing your talent supply chain, establishing training that improves the retention of women and focuses on them as consumers, and implementing programs in the community that help organizations tap into the potential of women as decision makers.
All of these actions—many of which are discussed in Deloitte’s report The Gender Dividend: Making the business case for investing in women —ultimately improve the bottom line. Or as Michelle Bachelet, the first Executive Director of UN Women and immediate former President of Chile, put it more elegantly during the event:
"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."
This tool is yielding results. Rajiv Williams from JSL Stainless Ltd., a US$12 billion business based in India, said that once his company started to implement WEP, they significantly increased the number of women recruited, “when we had never found women before.” WEP’s prescription for working with women suppliers was evidenced in the success Dean’s Beans has had in setting up women coffee farmer collectives. And here at Deloitte, we are seeing WEP used as a benchmark for our continuing global efforts to invest in women, with commitment coming from the very top of the organization.
The UN itself is also using the principles to “get its house in order,” according to Secretary-General Ban. He has appointed more women to leadership than anyone before: women are now “ the top cop, the top lawyer, and the top human rights enforcer for the UN.”
But an event like this is just the beginning. As noted by many panelists, progress must continue to be monitored and to this end Secretary-General Ban announced a multi-million dollar commitment to follow the implementation of WEP. WEP must also be advocated among all levels of the economy, from micro-businesses and entrepreneurs to large corporations—a point strongly reinforced by the Secretary-General:
“Businesses have a tremendous reach,” he said. “When you act in the workplace, we see the effects throughout society. I applaud the more than 160 companies that have signed on to the principles. But we need thousands more to reach a real tipping point.”
Greg Pellegrino is the DTTL Global Industry Leader for the Public Sector industry and leads the Federal Government Services practice for Deloitte Financial Advisory Services LLP in the United States. He is the co-author of Paths to Power: Advancing Women in Government and The Gender Dividend: Making the Business Case for Investing in Women. He also recently spoke at the Harvard Kennedy School’s event, “Closing the Gender Gap.”