UN Global Compact CEO Lise Kingo tells Terry Slavin why Global Goal 5 has to be on all companies’ radar

As head of the UN Global Compact, Lise Kingo travels the world urging companies to align their business strategies with achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, which she describes as “the biggest transformation challenge the world has ever faced”.

And that was her message when she was in London this month speaking at Ethical Corporation’s Responsible Business Summit Europe (see ‘There is no Plan B’: Lise Kingo to urge greater action on SDGs at RBS Europe), highlighting the $12trn in new market value that is awaiting to be unlocked by companies committed to achieving the Global Goals, according to research by the Business and Sustainable Development Commission (BDSC).

And while companies can not be expected to contribute to all 17 goals, there is one that Kingo believes should be firmly on every company’s radar: Goal 5 on gender equality.

In an interview ahead of the conference, Kingo, a Dane who is an International Gender Champion, said she is shocked by the fact that the gender pay gap is actually widening rather than narrowing around the world. 


Credit: McKinsey

The World Economic Forum’s latest annual gender gap report found that it will take 100 years to close the gender gap at the current rate of progress, compared with 83 years previously. “Gender equality is not an evolutionary process,” she said. “We have to spark a gender equality revolution.”

Of course, it is not all down to companies. In some parts of the world there are huge cultural factors barring women’s progress. “In many regions of the world not enough is being done to remove legislation that is preventing women from owning land or starting their own businesses. These are fundamental barriers to creating gender equality,” Kingo says.

Worryingly, there is also little progress in parts of the world where there are no such barriers, despite the increased media attention to women’s rights being garnered by movements such as #MeToo. “You have the number of women sitting on boards moving backwards. We are seeing the number of women in executive management moving backwards. And I think that is very sad. … Companies really need to reflect their customers and their markets.”

We are seeing the number of women in executive management moving backwards. And I think that is very sad

There is a solid business case for companies to redress the gender balance. The BSDC’s WomenRising2030 initiative, launched this year, quotes research from McKinsey Global Institute showing that if women were to participate in the economy identically to men, they could add as much as $28trn to global annual gross domestic product by 2025. In McKinsey’s “best in region” scenario, where all countries match the progress toward gender parity of the fastest-improving country in their region, this would add as much as $12trn in annual 2025 GDP.

The WomenRising2030 report cites evidence that businesses that have more women in senior positions are better able to shift their focus from short-term profit maximization to longer-term growth, with one international study finding that companies with gender-balanced boards were more likely to offer goods and services to communities with limited or no access to financial products. They also tend to prioritize environmental issues and to invest in renewable power, low-carbon products, and energy efficiency. (See Why women can lead the way on achieving the Global Goals)

“The WomenRising2030 report makes good observations about how a female mindset is perfect for driving [progress towards attaining] the Goals, which are so interconnected and systemic and complex, ” said Kingo.

Companies score poorly on empowering women in supply chains. (Credit: CRS Photo/Shutterstock)

Having spent 13 years as the only woman in the executive management team of Danish pharmaceuticals company Novo Nordisk prior to joining the Global Compact in 2015, King speaks from experience. “More holistic, long-term oriented and nuanced decisions are made when you have women around the table.”

In 2010 the UN Global Compact, in partnership with UN Women, launched the Women’s Empowerment Principles, a seven-point guideline for how companies can promote gender equality in the workplace. To date, more than 1,800 CEOs from around the world have pledged to uphold the principles, which include appointing women to corporate leadership roles, and promoting education and training for women.

Last year, the UN Global Compact provided more guidance in the form of a Women’s Empowerment Principles Gap Analysis Tool, a series of multiple-choice questions allowing companies to assess their own performance on women’s empowerment and gender equality.

It’s really important that companies focus on female empowerment not only in their own companies, but in society and their supply chains

The UN Global Compact recently published a trends report aggregating data from 100 companies that have piloted the tool in the first year. Nadim Kassar, deputy chairman and general manager BLC Bank in the Lebanon, who is on the WEP’s leadership group, said had BLC had access to the tool in 2012, when it launched its initiative to help Lebanon’s female entrepreneurs gain access to financial services, “our implementation time would have been shorter and more impactful”.  

But the report illustrates how early companies are in the journey to women’s empowerment, with fewer than 15% of businesses in the “achiever” or “leader” categories.

Kingo points out that one of the biggest surprises for the 100 companies was how poorly they scored on  female empowerment in their supply chains, with only 5% setting procurement and/or percentage spend targets with women-owned businesses, and 12% including gender equality criteria in supply chain management tools.

Lise Kingo: 'Gender equality is not an evolutionary process.' (Credit: UN Global Compact)

“Many have come back to us and said it was a real eye-opener,” said Kingo. “It’s really important that companies focus on female empowerment not only in their own companies, but in society and their supply chains, because ultimately that’s what will drive economic opportunities for women.” (see Why supply chains are key to empowering women and increasing GDP)

Latin American companies have been most enthusiastic in using the Women’s Empowerment Principles gap analysis tool, accounting for 42% of take-up, almost twice as many as companies in Europe (23%), and far ahead of North America (10%) and Asia (7%). And that is just as well. According to the McKinsey report, Latin America as a whole could enjoy a 14% increase in GDP under its “best in region” scenario for greater gender parity, second only to India, with 16%.

Kingo said the importance of Goal 5 is magnified by how closely it is connected to attaining other key goals, such as Goal 1 (no poverty) and Goal 8 (decent work and economic growth). “In my mind it would be impossible to make the Goals by 2030 if we don’t manage to empower women across the world.”

Terry Slavin is editor of Ethical Corporation and a former correspondent for Guardian Sustainable Business. terry.slavin@ethicalcorp.com @tslavinm

Main picture credit: Shawn Goldberg/Shutterstock

This article is part of the in-depth briefing, Gender and Diversity. See also:

The US firms opening their doors to greater diversity

Investors turn up pressure on Google over gender and diversity

Why supply chains are key to empowering women and increasing GDP

Coca-Cola’s 5by20 recipe to empower 5 million women

Vodaphone makes progress in push to close the mobile gender gap

How Equileap is helping investment in girls to grow up


SDG 5  Global Goals  gender equality  women's empowerment  Women's Empowerment Principles  WomenRising2030  BCSD  SDGs  BLC Bank UN Global Compact 

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