UN Women UK National Committee launches Women’s Empowerment Principles

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UN Women UK National Committee launches Women’s Empowerment Principles to challenge the unconscious gender bias in the UK and improve gender equality in the workplace


Seven Principles to build strong economies and achieve internationally agreed goals for development, sustainability and human rights 

London, 1st May 2012 – The UK National Committee for UN Women calls on companies to sign a CEO Statement of Support for the UN Women/UN Global Compact Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs), launched in the UK last night. The Principles offer businesses of all sizes a set of guidelines to empower women in the workplace, marketplace and community with the goal of creating a better working environment for all and improving financial performance for the company.



The Principles were launched at an event last night sponsored by BNP Paribas and attended by 85 senior executives from a variety of industries.  Attendees listened to Lady Northover, Government spokesperson on International Development*; Robert Swannell, Chairman of M&S; Cynthia Carroll, Chief Executive of Anglo American; Elisabeth Karako, Global Head of Diversity at BNP Paribas; and Marie Sigsworth, Group Corporate Responsibility Director at Aviva give their experiences of improving gender equality in the workplace as well as their goals for further development in the short to medium-term.  The event was wrapped up by a panel discussion hosted by Dr Heather McGregor, Director of Taylor Bennett and columnist for the Financial Times.


The Women’s Empowerment Principles – launched globally in 2010 – are the result of a partnership between UN Women and the UN Global Compact.  Drawing on real-life business practices, the Principles were developed through a year-long international multi-stakeholder consultation, and are designed to help companies tailor existing policies and practices — or establish needed new ones — to advance women’s empowerment and inclusion.  Currently, the CEO Statement of Support for the WEPs has been signed by over 400 chief executives of companies of all sizes and industries in countries around the world.


Kristin Hetle, Director of Strategic Partnerships for UN Women, said: “The importance of the WEPs partnership for UN Women cannot be overstated. Economic empowerment is so central to our agenda, and therefore business is central to it, too.  As part of the UN, our mandate is given to us by the family of nations. It is true that we work at the invitations of governments. But without partnering with all drivers of society, we – or the governments – cannot achieve our goals. Sound businesses are at the core of any nation’s prosperity, and that of its citizens – women and men.” 


Jan Grasty, President of UN Women UK National Committee, said: “At a global level, the UN Women/UN Global Compact Women Empowerment Principles have had considerable success in changing working practices for women for the benefit of all.  It is now time to bring home the Women’s Empowerment Principles to organisations in the UK for the benefit of women, men and the economy. 


“On many levels in the UK, employees believe that gender equality exists but when you delve deeper into the fabric of companies, we recognise that unconscious gender bias is present. The Principles provide a gender lens to help those organisations who have the political will to challenge their day to day working practices for the benefit of their employees and ultimately the performance of their business.”


Anglo American, one of the world’s largest mining companies, is the first company to sign the UN Women’s Empowerment Principles at the UK launch, with many more companies pledging to become signatories, following last night’s event.  By signing up to the UK WEPs, Anglo American has agreed to adhere to the seven standards to help strengthen its existing policies and initiatives to promote gender equality in the workplace, marketplace and community.

Cynthia Carroll, Chief Executive of Anglo American, comments: “Committing to the Women’s Empowerment Principles will help Anglo American remain focused on increasing diversity in our workplace, as well as in the wider mining industry. Meaningful progress in this area can only be achieved through the combination of corporate leadership, commitment and the appropriate structural framework and practical initiatives.


“In the mining industry, the female participation rate continues to be extremely low with significant room for improvement. We have been focused on redressing this imbalance at our own operations, in our corporate offices and across the broader sector and as a result, the percentage of women in our workforce is steadily rising. Fifteen per cent (15%) of our overall workforce are women, up from 13% in 2009 and 22% of managers are women, up from 9% in 2006. And at a Board level, we have also committed to increasing the representation of women from 20% to 30% by 2013.”


One of the first international organisations to sign up to the global WEPs was Ernst & Young.  Fleur Bothwick, Director of Diversity & Inclusive Leadership, Europe, Middle East, India and Africa at Ernst & Young, comments: “The most effective business leaders know that empowering women in the workplace will drive economic growth, leading to better outcomes for their company, for society and for the country as a whole.”


BNP Paribas, the European leader in global banking and financial services, with approximately 8,000 employees in the UK, signed up to the global WEPs in 2011.  Elisabeth Karako, Global Head of Diversity at BNP Paribas, comments on how they have strived to implement the Principles for the benefit of the company culture: “Promoting diversity has been key to BNP Paribas’ ethos for a number of years and we place great emphasis on gender equality. We are committed to ensuring female talent is recognised  and have been active in increasing the number of women in senior management roles across the organisation as well as developing our pipeline for the future.  Over one third of BNP Paribas’ board of directors are women and the first woman was appointed to the executive committee last year. In addition, we run a number of awareness raising initiatives including training programmes and have established women’s internal networks in various countries including the UK.”

Once companies have signed, UN Women UK National Committee expects signatories to be transparent in their process of implementing the WEPs, often by reporting through their existing diversity reporting mechanism. Guidance on how to make and measure progress against the WEPs is also provided through the WEPs partnership at the global level.


* House of Lords, Government spokesperson on International Development and Government Whip and spokesperson on Health, Justice, Women and Equalities;


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