Comment: twentyfifty signs the Women's Empowerment Principles

On Tuesday, I committed twentyfifty to the Women’s Empowerment Principles at a BMZ-hosted conference on the Economic Empowerment of Women in Berlin.

We’ve been a signatory to the UN Global Compact since 2012 and are active members of the UK and Swiss networks, and work extensively with the German network. So for us, this is a natural extension of existing commitment to advancing global standards and practice, and to the UN. It is also a natural reflection of our business, with a majority of female employees and half the leadership team female.

However more than this it is a statement of our intention to ensure we integrate gender equality into our work and strengthen the support we offer to our clients in this area, reflecting the prominence given to women’s empowerment in the Global Goals.

The conference gave us ample reminders of how critical women’s empowerment is to achieving the goals; from the importance of finding growth in developed economies through further empowerment and eliminating the pay gap for women, to the recognition of the role women play in rebuilding war torn nations, with men lost to the war. We were often reminded that 90% of the money women earn is reinvested in the family and home, whereas for men the figure is only 30-40%.

H.E. Rula Ghani, the first lady of Afghanistan, gave a particularly impassioned keynote challenging the development community (and business) not to design clever projects in remote offices, but to engage with those they seek to help and to  give them voice and support to shape their own future. An actress and doctor, Maria Furtwängler spoke both of the business case, but also that women must challenge themselves, as well as men, on behaviours and unconscious bias for the things which hold women back are deeply engrained in both women and men.

Examples of business leadership abounded, from Coca Cola’s progress in meeting its goal of empowering 5 million women entrepreneurs in its value chain by 2020, to Daimler’s progress in a highly technical business towards 20% of leadership positions being taken by women. Najmah Mallick of Meezaan Building Services spoke about her experience of being a female business leader in South Africa, and the need for those in leadership positions to support and coach upcoming women.

We are working with a number of suppliers in Bangladesh to enhance the experience of women in the workplace and, we hope, to measure the positive impact for the business and in our work with UNICEF to integrate children’s rights into due diligence in the mining sector, we have seen that women’s rights go hand in hand with children’s rights.

It was a challenging and inspiring couple of days, but now to get on with living up to our new commitment.