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Women’s empowerment: the framework approach

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 24 Aug 2021

Women’s access to finance, access to boards, and the availability of financial products appropriate for women - ICAEW asks UN Women what these are and why they matter.

Collaboration between the UN Global Compact and UN Women resulted in the Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs), a framework that more than 5,000 business leaders have committed to implement. These signatories include large corporations, chambers of commerce, industry associations as well as micro entities and self-employed – in fact anyone that can have an influence on the market, a sector, a supply chain, and the whole business landscape.

It is all about commitment to implement the WEPs framework both internally and externally, starting with signing the WEPs CEO Statement of Support.

The principles are simple:

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

“They were established 10 years ago – based on international human rights and labour standards – by UN Women in cooperation with UN Global Compact,” explains Ody Neisingh, Consultant: Senior Expert on Women’s Economic Empowerment in the European Union at UN Women. “The WEPs are a framework for companies to use, to start with Principle 1 on leadership and then continue to work through them as part of the organisation’s internal strategy, in the order you prefer. The idea is then for an organisation to influence and have a positive impact on their workplace, marketplace and community.”

The WEPs deliver a process that results in Principle 7 on measuring and reporting. “The last one is very important because it is about being transparent about your goals, your progress and your incentives,” she says. “It enables others to make sure you are accountable for your actions and keeps you committed.”

The financial services sector has the European Banking Federation as a strong proponent of the WEPs. “It is a very keen participant and promotes the WEPs to its member banking associations and their member banks,” adds Neisingh.

She points out the banking and tech sectors are particularly active in women’s empowerment, partly because of a desire to attract female talent. “They see the WEPs and their commitment to women’s empowerment as a way of talent acquisition and retention and are keen to avoid being labelled as a sector that is not open to women’s empowerment,” she says. In fact, the WEPs are now having a truly positive impact on the shape and development of these sectors, thereby helping to eliminate unconscious bias in the recruitment process, eliminating discrimination for example on equal pay and talent retention through family-friendly policies, resulting in more diverse teams and leadership.

This diversity in the financial world can only engender more open thinking around funding businesses led by women – a truly inclusive culture will lead to equitable access to resources and funds. A focus on women’s empowerment can also help diversify boards and management teams in the sector. In fact, the WEPs have the propensity to help drive a business funder and business founder ecosystem that is increasingly representative of the general population.

Neisingh says: “Importantly, the WEPs are good for business. It's not just that you should sign up to the WEPs because they are good for gender equality, it is also that gender equality is good for business. It has a positive impact on talent acquisition, attracting investments, higher employee retention and satisfaction, it’s good for your brand and increased productivity. It’s been proved that diverse teams lead to better decision-making and to a more efficient and effective business environment.”

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