By Roberta Attanasio, Forever Leaders Editor
Since the launch of the Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs) on International Women’s Day in March 2010, more than 1,000 CEOs from around the world have signed the CEO Statement of Support for the WEPs, thus expressing their interest in gender equality. But what are the WEPs? Adapted from the Calvert Women’s Principles®, they are a set of seven Principles for business, offering guidance on how to empower women in the workplace, marketplace and community. They are subtitled Equality Means Business, and are the result of a collaboration between the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), and the United Nations Global Compact.
Although the WEPs were primarily developed for the business community, they are now used as a basis for dialogue and action to advance and empower women by a variety of stakeholders, especially international organizations and governments that wish to engage with the private sector. Indeed, WEPs provide a reference point for reviewing policies and practices related to gender equality and women’s empowerment.
The seven Principles are:
- Principle 1: Establish high-level corporate leadership for gender equality
- Principle 2: Treat all women and men fairly at work – respect and support human rights and nondiscrimination
- Principle 3: Ensure the health, safety and well-being of all women and men workers
- Principle 4: Promote education, training and professional development for women
- Principle 5: Implement enterprise development, supply chain and marketing practices that empower women
- Principle 6: Promote equality through community initiatives and advocacy
- Principle 7: Measure and publicly report on progress to achieve gender equality
The CEO Statement of Support for the WEPs underscores that equal treatment of women and men is not just the right thing to do—it is also good for business. By signing it, corporate executives encourage fellow business leaders to support the WEPs, and directly demonstrate the first Principle: “Establish high-level corporate leadership for gender equality”.
The video below provides an overview of the WEPs:
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These seven Principles for business equality are great pillars to set a framework for diminishing the gender gap in the workplace. One of the strongest points, in my opinion, is #4: Promote education, training, and professional development for women. This is essential because one of the main contributors to the continuance of the gender gap is a lack of knowledge. Often times women comply with societal norms, such as holding back from a leadership position, subconsciously. It seems that the more educated women are on the tendencies of women to minimize their presence in professional settings, the more likely they will be to combat those tendencies. After educating women, the follow-up of training will allow them to begin acting on their new-found knowledge. It will help women understand how to obtain leadership positions and how to assert themselves in the workforce. Professional development will then act as a supplement to the initial training, allowing women to continue their climb to the top of their respective professional fields. The only thing this standard is missing would be an educational and training component for men, along with women. It becomes much easier for women to reach their goals if the men previously holding those positions (and making decisions about who will fulfill those roles next) are aware of the gender biases. I think it’s just as common for men to subconsciously select other men for leadership positions as it is for women to subconsciously minimize themselves in the workplace. Men must know this tendency so they can work to evaluate candidates equally. Most of the other principals include “men and women”, so I think that both genders should be included in #4 as well.
I love how CEO’s are participating in the movement for gender equality by passing and implementing the 7 WEPs. All seven of the WEPs are important, but I believe that without the first principle, establishing a high-level corporate leadership for gender equality, the rest of the WEPs would be worthless. I believe a high level corporate leadership has the ability to be empathetic, respectful, optimistic, confident, aware, and honest. Good leadership can look at the status quo and develop a plan to fix them. In this case, the leaders who are taking the effort to apply the seven WEPs are exemplifying key leadership skills. They are being aware of gender inequality. Two, they are being honest with were the company stands on that issue and how much progress they are making. Three, they are being optimistic by promoting programs that will educate and develop the growth of equality. In order to see improvement in this battle for equality we must push leaders to apply the WEPs to their companies and also educate the leaders of the company to have good leadership skills.
The bottom line is equality=business. Making an effort to promote equality in the workplace has really paid off for the companies that have made the effort. It was so amazing to see men CEOs speak out in support for gender equality. H.E. Ban Ki-moon said in the video, the support of men is important to achieve gender equality. Although women can unite and make a difference for themselves, without the support from men they will not achieve equality completely. There is statistical evidence to support the raise in GDP if employment rates for females equal the rates for men. In my opinion, it is time that women get the appreciation they desire. When women feel empowered they feel more confident to stand up for themselves. Women are too often looked down upon and disrespected in our society. I believe principle 3 “ensure the health, safety, and well-being of all women and men workers” is one of the most important aspects. When people do not feel safe or are not healthy, they cannot preform to the best of their ability. What do you think the most important principle is?
However, after saying all that, I am extremely thankful for the opportunities I have in the United States that other women do not have in other countries. Sometimes I find myself wondering what if I was not allowed to go to school and how that would make me feel. When people are denied certain rights, it is very discouraging. The Women’s Empowerment Principles is a global movement that has the potential to achieve gender equality.