Having women leaders at the executive level is critical — Executive Director

Opening remarks by UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka at the release of the HeForShe IMPACT Champion Parity Report on 22 January, in Davos.


Good morning, and on behalf of the United Nations and UN Women specifically, thank you for being here with us today.

I warmly thank our HeForShe IMPACT Champions, our moderators, and today’s audience, which includes the University Presidents of the IMPACT 10X10X10, who have joined us today to stand alongside their peers in the private sector in solidarity, including from the University of Hong Kong, Stony Brook in the US, and the University of Oxford in the UK.

Two years ago the World Economic Forum released the Gender Parity Report for 2014 in which it said that it could take 81 years for women to reach gender equality in economic engagement unless there was a change in the current trajectory. That was a wake-up call. In 2015 the same study by the World Economic Forum found that it could take 118 years to reach gender parity in pay if we continued to do business as usual, which is to leave most of the work to women’s organizations, interest groups, activists and others who are not in positions of authority, yet who are concerned and determined.

If we enter into business un-usual, and enter the space of the new normal, which is what we are doing today, we could shorten that journey. That is why it is UN Women’s goal to work with CEOs, with universities, and with heads of state. Working with men and boys is working for a shared vision of a world that has no gender inequality.

This initiative, where the CEOs are in the driver’s seat, recognizes that attending to gender equality is not only the right thing to do, it is also a recognition that companies with the highest representation of women in executive committees as well as in different executive positions are able to perform and compete much better than their counterparts.

The significance of today’s report

Today we are able to demonstrate the role that leaders can play in addressing gender equality in the workplace when they lead from the front. In a very short space of time we have seen significant results in these companies because the CEOs are leading from the front. Today is also about transparency, sharing the information that has been gathered and using the data to mobilize other companies to do the same.

The focus is also on what matters. We are focusing on entry-level, we are focusing on middle-level, we are focusing on women in executive and non-executive levels of the companies, so that when we are trying to address the problem we know exactly where to go.

The contribution of our 10 IMPACT Champions

The report shows that these companies that are with us today are very close to making a breakthrough. Women make up 39.7 per cent of total employees at these companies, so they are close to breaking into the 40-60 per cent range of labour force equality participation, which is what the World Bank recommends as an ideal level of participation by women. Of course we would want it to be 50 per cent plus, in general.

At senior leadership level, in these companies, the participation of women is between 11 per cent and 33 per cent. No company in this group has yet achieved parity in the top six per cent of roles. But this is a journey, and we think those who have more work to do will probably run faster, and those that are closer will now also engage more strongly.

Across the IMPACT Champions, women hold 28.6 per cent of Board seats, exceeding the current global average of 17 per cent. We hope that these companies will continue to do even better. Already they are above the global average.

Across all companies, 39.9 per cent of new hires are women, but Barclays, PwC, Tupperware and Unilever have already achieved gender parity in their new hires. What this means is that everybody has a pipeline of candidates to work with and to take forward. We know that having women leaders at executive level is critical for each partner to realize their business objectives, and also to make the world a better place.

We have time frames we have adopted, as with these companies, and 2020 is the year when we hope we will be able to present very exciting information and data. In the Sustainable Development Goals, we have highlighted the importance of using data so that we can make evidence-based decisions. This report also demonstrates how these companies value data, and underlines their willingness to share it.

In a short time these companies have also been able to mobilize education amongst their employees on gender equality, they have launched new efforts to accelerate progress towards workforce parity, and the empowerment of men within the company has moved into the realm of turning men into activists for gender equality.

The significance of today is not just for us, it is also for the World Economic Forum, which has a role to play in ensuring that the creation of demand and the pressure to include women in the delegations that come to Davos, so that, and together with UN Women, companies and others, we create the possibility for companies to have a greater pool of women for meetings like this.

Today is also about the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 5 on gender equality, Sustainable Development Goal 8, which is decent jobs and economic growth and Sustainable Development Goal 17, which is about partnerships. These CEOs are ahead of the pack. We are already beginning the journey to Agenda 2030; it can never be too early for us to start.

Thank you all so much for the work that you do, and thank you Emma for your dedication, and for being so hands-on.

Thank you.