Press release: Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Hillary Clinton and Business Leaders Call for Women’s Economic Empowerment and Rights

Largest Gathering of Private Sector at the UN Commission on the Status of Women Support Strategic Partnership to Deliver on Gender Equality

Date: 10 March 2015

(New York, 10 March) – At the 59th Commission on the Status of Women an unprecedented number of business leaders, UN Member States and civil society organizations gathered for the Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs) event, Unlimited Potential: Business Partners for Gender Equality, to promote the business case for involving women at every level and the need for all stakeholders, including business, to be strategic partners for gender equality and sustainable development. 

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Hillary Rodham Clinton delivers the keynote address at the WEPs 2015 Annual Event. Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown

“Women and men who understand that gender equality is not just morally right, but is the smart thing to do are growing in number,” said Hillary Clinton at today’s event. “What we are doing here today is smart for companies and countries. That is the wisdom behind the Women’s Empowerment Principles.”

“The progress of the past 20 years was not an accident. It took commitment, it took accountability, it took unity, it took a lot of hard work.” She later added, "I’m excited where we are and particularly that we have brought in so many businesses that understand the role that they can play…let’s keep working until we can finally say that the unfinished business of the 21st century is done.”

The Women’s Empowerment Principles – a partnership initiative of the UN Global Compact and UN Women – provide 7 Principles, for the private sector to empower women in the workplace, marketplace and community.

Launched in 2010 with 40 CEO signatories, WEPs support from top business leaders around the globe now exceeds 900 CEOs and continues to grow. At the meeting, companies implementing the WEPs reported on efforts to eliminate gender bias, increase women’s leadership, equalize pay, open opportunities in technical fields and along the supply chain. This year’s meeting also recognized five outstanding business leaders with the coveted WEPs CEO Leadership Award for bringing principles into practice and leading by example.

In his opening remarks, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon noted: “Now it is clear that achieving gender equality will require the concerted efforts of all actors. The Women’s Empowerment Principles provide a roadmap for businesses to play their role in respecting and supporting women’s rights,” he said. “Removing the barriers that keep women and girls on the margins of economic, social, cultural and political life must be a top priority for us all – businesses, Governments, the United Nations and civil society.”

This WEPs meeting is especially significant as it is being held for the first time as an official side event of the 59th Commission on the Status of Women, which is currently meeting to review global implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action and take stock of where women stand today. At the time of the Beijing Conference twenty years ago, the business community was just beginning to understand the importance of including women at all levels and eliminating gender discrimination.

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Georg Kell, Executive Director of the UN Global Compact and Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women deliver welcoming remarks at the 2015 WEPs Annual Event. Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown

This is the moment for the private sector to take its place as a key partner in the achievement of gender equality and the empowerment of women, and to make a transformative difference.  If the status quo continues, nothing changes. I call for active and energetic implementation of the Women’s Empowerment Principles, working with Governments, the UN and all other partners.  The WEPs hold enormous potential to radically change the landscape of employment conditions and opportunities for women.  We want to see a surge in the number of businesses with WEPs in place in the next five years, so that we can achieve full equality before 2030.  This is a practical, scalable way to empower women and at the same time boost productivity and economic results,” said UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka.

Speakers included Karin Finkelston, World Bank Group; Maurice Sehnaoui, Chairman, BLC Bank of  Lebanon; and Joseph Keefe, President and Chief Executive Office of Pax World Fund and Chair of the WEPs Leadership Group.  Participants underscored the need to scale up investment in women and girls, ensuring equal access to public services, healthcare, education, jobs, finance and justice. Citing new and extensive research-based findings, speakers pointed to the high rate of return of investing in women for both Governments and businesses.

Joseph Keefe said, “Gender equality is not only the greatest human rights issue of our time, but the business community and society at large are beginning to understand that it is also the greatest economic challenge of our time.”

Georg Kell, UN Global Compact Executive Director said,  “The business case for gender equality grows stronger and stronger—it connects our efforts across all sectors. For communities, the environment and economies to thrive, the UN and Governments, business and civil society must take action on these issues with the same energy and urgency made famous at Beijing in 1995,” he added.

Five CEOs Recognized for Leadership on Gender Equality

Since 2013, each WEPs Annual Event has included the announcement of the WEPs CEO Leadership Awards, saluting five exceptional CEOs for championing gender equality and the 7 WEPs Principles, in particular Principle One, which urges CEOs to lead by example.  Conferring the awards, Elizabeth Broderick, Sex Discrimination Commission, Australian Human Rights Commission and Chair, WEPs Leadership Group said: “What I’ve also come to understand vividly is that women’s empowerment desperately needs action on the ground and in the halls of power—be it Parliaments, Departments of Justice, at the UN or in the C-Suite offices around the world,” she said. “ As these five CEOs and their companies demonstrate, the 7 Principles are a unique gender equality roadmap for tangible actions and measurable results.” 

As advancing women in the workplace, marketplace and community requires implementing a range of tailored strategies and actions to achieve concrete, sustainable programmes with measurable impact, the WEPs CEO Leadership Awards are structured to reflect diverse avenues to reach those goals. The 2015 WEPs CEO Leadership Award recipients are:

  • Omnilife-Angelíssima, Angélica Fuentes, Chief Executive Officer, Omnilife; Founder, Angelíssima; and Founder and Chair, Angélica Fuentes Foundation (Mexico), the first woman CEO recognized with a WEPs CEO Leadership Benchmarking for Change Award.  The company implements a comprehensive action plan with distinct indicators and measurements that result in a 17 per cent increase in new women hires from 2007 to 2013.
  • Schneider Electric, Jean-Pascal Tricoire, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer (France) recognized with the WEPs CEO Leadership Business Case for Action Award.  Schneider Electric’s Diversity and Inclusion policy prioritizes communicating the business case for diversity and creating a company-wide gender balance environment that extends beyond the parent company to more than 10 Schneider CEOs of its international branches in countries from Viet Nam to Turkey.
  • Sovereign Assurance, Symon Brewis-Weston, Chief Executive Officer (New Zealand) recognized with the WEPS CEO Leadership Community Engagement Award.   The company is implementing an innovative leadership exchange programme to change organisational culture through a partnership with the Hunger Project,  connecting  Sovereign employees with women leaders in villages in India, Bangladesh and select countries in Africa to develop  leadership  skills and partnerships that address some of the world’s most pressing challenges.
  • Deloitte Canada, Frank Vettese, Managing Partner and Chief Executive, Deloitte Canada; and Member, Global Executive Committee Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited (Canada/ Global) recognized with the WEPs CEO Cultural Change for Empowerment Award.  The Canadian consulting firm, strengthened and recrafted diversity and inclusion programmes to create a cultural transformation by embedding inclusion throughout company’s actions, decision-making processes and business operations, encouraging all departments within the company to make concerted efforts towards creating a gender inclusive environment.
  • Österreichischer Rundfunk, Alexander Wrabetz,   Director General (Austria) recognized with the WEPs CEO Leadership 7 Principles Award.  The company’s comprehensive Equal Opportunities Plan covers a broad spectrum of programmes and initiatives including: empowering women to become company leaders through training and mentoring programmes; reducing barriers for women to enter technical professions; and changing gender role perceptions with the company’s Papa Campaign that encourages more men to take parental leave and assume child care responsibilities and promoting gender balance sensitivity in that all broadcasting programmes and communications. 

About the Women’s Empowerment Principles

The Women's Empowerment Principles – Equality Means Business is a joint initiative of UN Women and the UN Global Compact. The Principles outline seven steps for business on how to empower women in the workplace, marketplace and community. The Principles highlight that empowering women to participate fully in economic life across all sectors and throughout all levels of economic activity is essential to build strong economies; establish more stable and just societies; achieve internationally agreed goals for development, sustainability, and human rights; improve quality of life for women, men, families and communities; and propel business' operations and goals. Learn more at www.weprinciples.orghttp://www.weprinciples.org

About the 2015 WEPs Leadership Awards

The Annual Women’s Empowerment Principles Event features the WEPs Leadership Award to salute CEO commitment and innovation to realize gender equality. The Awards highlight concrete and innovative actions taken to advance the 7 Principles, and particularly showcases Principle One: Leadership Promotes Gender Equality. The WEPs Leadership Awards Committee is comprised of members of the WEPs Leadership Group, a multi-stakeholder volunteer body that provides strategic guidance to the WEPs partnership of the UN Women and the UN Global Compact. It represents business, academia, civil society, women’s organizations and international institutions. For complete information about the Awards, winners and Awards Committee, please visit www.weprinciples.org/Site/WepsLeadershipAwards.


Media Contacts

UN Global Compact

Kristina Wilson-Rocheford; wepsmedia[at]globalcompact.org ;+1 917-367-2801

UN Women

Sharon Grobeisen; sharon.grobeisen[at]unwomen.org; +1 646-781-4753