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Empowering Women: Corporations and Non-Profits Are Pushing for Parity

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It’s been a big week for women. The National Council for Research on Women Honored Six Who Champion Women; The White House released its report, Women in America: Indicators of Social and Economic Well-Being; and Dan Abrams, the attorney-television commentator-turned media-mogul, released a new book, "Man Down: Proof Beyond a Reasonable Doubt That Women Are Better Cops, Drivers, Gamblers, Spies, World Leaders, Beer Tasters, Hedge Fund Managers, and Just About Everything Else" (Abrams Image March 2011).

The United Nations Global Compact released Wednesday a set of “Women's Empowerment Principles” as a guide to empowering “women in the workplace, marketplace and community.” The principles will be discussed at a U.N. event, Equality Means Business: Putting Principles into Practice, March 9 and 10 in New York.

The Principles are:

  • Establish high-level corporate leadership for gender equality.
  • Treat all women and men fairly at work – respect and support human rights and nondiscrimination.
  • Ensure the health, safety and well-being of all women and men workers.
  • Promote education, training and professional development for women.
  • Implement enterprise development, supply chain and marketing practices that empower women.
  • Promote equality through community initiatives and advocacy.
  • Measure and publicly report on progress to achieve gender equality

The U.N. reported in 2010 that philanthropic institutions play a large role in furthering efforts for equality for women, and held an event in 2010 to encourage philanthropic efforts to empower women.

U.K. Moves Toward Board Parity

In February, The U.K. unleashed a report calling for improvement in the gender balance on corporate boards in that country. The report, “Women on boards, February 2011,” said that women currently hold 12.5% of FTSE 100 corporate board seats. “At the current rate of change it will take over 70 years to achieve gender-balanced boardrooms in the U.K.”

This study was part of the incoming U.K. government’s mandate, and Edward Davey, the Business Minister and Lynne Featherstone, the Minister for Women brought in Lord Davies of Abersoch, CBE, to run the study.

The report makes 10 recommendations about bringing boards closer to gender parity. It recommends that FTSE 100 companies have a board target “for all new appointments from March 2011 to be 2/3 male 1/3 female, effective from the publication of this report.” The report adds, “We believe that all boards moving to 25% female representation on boards is attainable and if this pace continues we will achieve 30% by 2020.”

The U.K. report says that companies should take steps to bring more women into the board “pipeline.” It asserts that FTSE 100 companies should “consider running board internship programs,” for women and consider bringing into the boardroom “women from outside the corporate mainstream, including  entrepreneurs, academics, civil servants and senior women with  professional service backgrounds.”

In the U.S. the board situation isn’t all that different; women hold about 15% of Fortune 500 board seats, according to a Catalyst study—but there has been no government recommendation for parity—here though, non-profit groups including the National Council for Research on Women (NCRW) called for companies to recognize that there are many reasons, including improvements in sales, revenues and profits for companies to mover forward more quickly to gender parity at the top ranks of management and in the board room. 

And Pax World Investments released a white paper, “Gender Equality as an Investment Concept,” that notes companies that empower women are good for investors in those companies as well. Shareholders are becoming active in board parity issues, according to the paper. Pax also notes that there are other ways to invest in empowering women—through microloans in developing countries. See “Does Gender Equality Matter to Corporate Performance?


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