Business leaders, UN Member States and civil society agree: Gender equality critical to economic development

The UN Global Compact and UN Women organize the Women’s Empowerment Principles Annual Event


(New York, 16 March 2016) Recognizing gender equality as a fundamental human right, central to driving the global economy and achieving the recently adopted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), business leaders joined UN Member States and civil society organizations at the Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs) Annual Event. It focused on the multiplier effect of empowering women and girls in advancing all development issues and the enormous opportunity for business to lead on promoting gender equality.

The Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs) Annual Event, in New York on 15 March 2016. Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown
The Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs) Annual Event, in New York on 15 March 2016. Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown

In the keynote address, Luis Guillermo Solís Rivera, President of Costa Rica urged: “The time is right. International consensus has been reached, at Beijing+20 and in Agenda 2030, about the importance of women's empowerment in the global sustainability agenda.” He emphasized that “a society that puts gender equality at its forefront not only grows economically but becomes more human.”

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon explained: “We cannot achieve our Sustainable Development Goals without securing the full and equal rights of half of the world’s population, in law and in practice.” He noted that: when companies invest in women, they see a range of benefits and a return on investment. It is clear that gender equality is a business issue.”

The Women’s Empowerment Principles – a partnership initiative of the UN Global Compact and UN Women – provide companies with an integrated and proven approach to unlocking the power of women in business and society. It is the largest business-led gender equality initiative in the world endorsed by more than 1,100 CEOs from 80 countries. Held in conjunction with the 60th Commission on the Status of Women, this year’s annual event spotlighted companies that are implementing the WEPs to achieve the SDGs, step up action, and find innovative ways to partner and advance gender equality.

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women, stressed the importance of partnerships and collaboration with business to achieve gender equality, stating: “The engagement and commitment of the private sector to gender equality are essential to reaching the Agenda 2030 goals and aspirations. Gender equality and sustainability must be integral to every business plan and strategy.”

Lise Kingo, Executive Director of the UN Global Compact, told participants: “We have not reached the tipping point on gender equality. It’s time that we have honest conversations about what is really holding women back. We need to end bias, both overt and unconscious. We must recognize that gender equality is not just a women’s issue—it’s a men’s issue, a family issue, a community issue and a business issue.”

To help accelerate progress, the development of a new gap analysis tool was announced by the Inter-American Development Bank, the UN Global Compact and UN Women, along with supporting partners from business and government. The tool will assist companies in identifying gaps in gender equality and scale up implementation of the Women’s Empowerment Principles.

Five CEOs recognized for leadership on gender equality

Since 2013, the Annual Event has included the presentation of the Women’s Empowerment Principles CEO Leadership Awards, acknowledging business leaders for championing gender equality and implementing the principles, in particular Principle One which urges CEOs to lead by example.

Conferring the awards, Joseph Keefe, Co-chair of the WEPs Leadership Group and President and Chief Executive Officer of Pax World Funds, said: “The WEPs are an effective tool to advance women in business and society. The WEPs CEO Leaderships Awards bring to life concrete actions and measurable impacts that are changing workplaces, marketplaces and communities. As a previous Awards recipient, I know that this prestigious award gives companies encouragement to press forward with this important work.”

The 2016 WEPs CEO Leadership Award recipients are:

  • Jean-Paul Agon, Group Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, L’Oréal (France) – Benchmarking for Change WEPs CEO Leadership Award
  • Federico Bernaldo de Quiros, Chief Executive Officer, Toks Restaurantes (Mexico) – Community Engagement WEPs CEO Leadership Award
  • Lance Hockridge, Chief Executive Officer, Aurizon (Australia) – Cultural Change for Empowerment WEPs CEO Leadership Award
  • Michael Landel, Chief Executive Officer, Sodexo (France) and Janet Awad, Regional Chair of Latin America and Country President, Sodexo Chile (Chile) – 7 Principles WEPs CEO Leadership Award
  • David Sproul, Senior Partner and Chief Executive, Deloitte UK (United Kingdom) – Business Case for Action WEPs CEO Leadership Award

Cross-posted from

Watch an archived webcast of the Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs) Annual Event