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Promoting Women Is Simply Good Business

Posted on 09 March 2010 by admin

Georg Kell, executive director of the UN Global Compact, speaks about the launch of the Women's Empowerment Principles. Credit: Bomoon Lee/TerraViva

By Sabina Zaccaro

UNITED NATIONS, Mar 9 (IPS/TerraViva) Companies with women in leadership positions are reporting a measurable boost to their bottom lines, but they are still a minority in the world’s business community.

To rectify this imbalance, the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) and the U.N. Global Compact (UNGC) have designed specific guidelines to encourage the business community to appoint more women as managers, executives and board members.

“The full participation of women benefits business and, indeed, all of us,” Georg Kell, executive director of the U.N. Global Compact, told TerraViva.

The call for action is part of the Women’s Empowerment Principles – Equality Means Business, seven steps companies can take to empower women in the workplace and address the vast under-representation of women in top positions and on boards.

Principle number one urges company executives to make gender equality a top priority.

The seven principles are informed by leading businesses’ policies and practices from different sectors and around the world, Kell said, and offer a practical approach to advance women. He said the UNGC objective is to integrate these principles into companies’ own corporate social responsibility programmes.

A recent survey by the consultancy firm McKinsey reports that one-third of 2,300 monitored companies said their investments in women had already resulted in greater profits, while another third said their investments would soon show profit.

“The multiplier effect of women’s empowerment has been increasingly acknowledged,” said Inés Alberdi, UNIFEM’s executive director. “What is powerful and new today is that the corporate community itself reports that gender equality is good for business — advancing innovation, attracting top talent, raising positive consumer and community recognition and improving profits.”

Copel is a power utility in southern Brazil that generates and delivers accessible electricity to the entire population of the state of Paraná – more than three million connected households. Its total workforce is around 8,000 direct workers and 5,000 outsourced employees.

“We signed the Global Compact in 2001 and since then we have been trying hard to understand and incorporate its principles, as the corporate pace allows us to,” said Susie C. Pontarolli of the Environment and Corporate Citizenship Division at Copel.

The division she works for is also run by a woman, Marlene Zannin, the only woman appointed to a leadership position since the company was founded in 1954.

“Having a woman as Director of Environment and Corporate Citizenship speaks a lot and loud about how much progress has been made in our corporate culture since we committed to the Global Compact,” Pontarolli said.

“This is something we could have never dreamed of back in 1999, when we got started with the first steps towards corporate social responsibility,” she added.

The women’s empowerment principles were developed over a one-year international consultation process to help companies tailor existing policies and practices to advance women’s empowerment and inclusion.

They also address factors that have an indirect impact on businesses, like violence against women in the workplace. Principle three, in fact, includes establishing a zero-tolerance policy towards all forms of violence at work and training security staff and managers to recognise signs of violence against women.

The complete list of Principles can be found here:

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1995 - IPS TerraViva Beijing and Huairou reporting archive
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