Women’s Empowerment and Beyond: How the Private Sector Can Advance Gender Equality

Global Compact Network Canada, the Canadian Network of the United Nations Global Compact brought together leaders in the private sector to discuss action toward increasing women’s empowerment, and how Canadian businesses can advance SDG 5: Gender Equality – both within Canada and abroad.


TORONTO, June 7th, 2016 – The Global Compact Network Canada (GCNC) hosted an intimate roundtable discussion over breakfast at the office of Baker & McKenzie LLP to welcome Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director andLakshmi Puri, Deputy Executive Director of UN Women during their visit to Toronto. The “Women’s Empowerment and Beyond: How the Private Sector can advance Gender Equality” event was attended by approximately 20 industry leaders who are passionate about taking action to advance gender equality across industries and across the globe. At the last minute, Madam Mlambo-Ngcuka was unable to attend, but this did not impede the dynamic conversation.

The discussion was facilitated by Helle Bank Jorgensen, President of Global Compact Network Canada, who set the tone by highlighting some of the inequalities women face, such as lack of access to finance, decent work, basic education, and health care, occupational segregation, the burden of unpaid care work, and gender wage gaps. As well, women are often victims of violence and discrimination and are under-represented in political and economic decision-making processes including the boardroom. Jorgensen linked Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5: Gender Equality and SDG 10: Reduced Inequalities with the Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs), developed by the UN Global Compact and UN Women in 2009. The WEPs are 7 Principles based on concrete business practices and have inspired companies around the world to empower women. Looking to the SDGs and WEPs, Jorgensen urged the private sector to make women’s empowerment and gender equality priority areas and ensure that we can create maximum impact and set the bar high in the workplace, marketplace and community through dialogue, multi-sector engagement, and action.

Madam Puri delivered a keynote speech addressing the importance of private sector engagement with gender equality. Specifically, Madam Puri encouraged the private sector to engage more meaningfully with the WEPs by saying: “We hope to take the WEPs to a whole new level… we need greater accountability, greater impact, and more engagement from the private sector.” The impact of business engagement can be significant since “the private sector influences such a wide space in terms of jobs and norms.” Therefore, Madam Puri urged companies to think about how they might be “gender equal within the company and in terms of… the marketplace, supply chain, and communities around the world.” As well, Madam Puri recognized that historically “it is the patriarchal financial capitalism that has discriminated against women,” and suggested “we have to change that mold” with multi-stakeholder partnerships. However, it is not only the private sector’s responsibility to change cultural norms, but that of men and boys as well, suggested Madam Puri. Ultimately, Madam Puri reported, we need a “commitment to achieve, not just promote, gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls” within Canada and abroad.

Following Madam Puri’s address, Jorgensen asked attendees how we can expect companies that struggle with motivation to reconcile short term returns with gender equality, and to share success stories. John Coyne, VP of Legal & External Affairs, Unilever Canada, shared Unilever’s approach to addressing gender equality by considering how the issue is relevant to business and suggested it is key to consider the “top line” and to “forget the bottom line”. Hando Kang, Vice President, Global Public Affairs, SkyPower Global advocated for the end of tokenism. In response, Madam Puri shared thoughtful remarks on affirmative action policies, suggesting they are “not a favour” and they “build capacity”. Michael Kaufman, Co-founder, White Ribbon Campaign, suggested men have to use the “societal power we have amassed over millennia to speak about women’s rights” and stated, “the gift of feminism is not just a gift to women”.

The GCNC would like to extend special thanks to UN Women, and Baker & McKenzie LLP, for their support in hosting this event, as well as all of those in attendance for their fantastic insights and passionate discussion.

For further information on this topic please contact Emma Callon at emma@unglobalcompact.ca.