The WE EMPOWER Program: Encouraging organizations to become signatories of Women's Empowerment Principles
Established in 2018, and set to conclude at the end of 2020, the WE Empower Program is a joint initiative between UN Women, the International Labour Organization and the European Union.
The program lays out seven Women's Empowerment Principles that form guidelines for corporate action to promote gender equality and women's economic empowerment. They range from commitments on health and safety and transparency and accountability to supply chain diversity and professional development.
Tune in to episode 6 of Diversonomics season 4 as hosts Roberto Aburto and Cindy Kou speak with Camille Beaudoin, junior consultant and program assistant for the WE Empower Program in Canada, about advancing gender equality in the workplace — and how work environments will change drastically over the next decade.
"Yes, maybe in comparison to other developed countries we have it a little bit better, but there's still definitely issues that need to be worked on. We want to involve more organizations and more people in our efforts. We're here to shed light on issues, provide possible solutions, bridge gaps and facilitate discussions."
— Camille Beaudoin, junior consultant and program assistant, WE Empower Program Canada
Roberto: Welcome to Diversonomics. The podcast about diversity and inclusion from Gowling WLG. I'm your co-host Roberto Aburto, practicing in the Ottawa office.
Cindy: And I'm your co-host, Cindy Kou, practicing in the Toronto Office. Today we have a guest who works at UN Women. She is a junior consultant and program assistant for the WE Empower Program in Canada. We've been working with her as Gowling signs on to the Women's Empowerment Principals. Welcome to the show Camille Beaudoin. Tell us a little bit about yourself, please.
Camille: Hi. Thank you. Again, my name is Camille Beaudoin, and as my name indicates I am French Canadian but I spent most of my life in Ontario. I studied international relations and history at the University of Toronto and I've recently graduated law school. Right now I'm doing my Master of Laws in the international trade and foreign investment law. Most importantly, and most relevant to today's episode, as you mentioned, Cindy, I work for UN Women as a junior consultant and program assistant for the WE Empower Program and more concretely this means that I help to coordinate the program all over Canada. I help to ensure that we meet the objectives set out in our mandate. While I realize that's not very concrete I do so many things. I do such a wide variety of things that's really difficult for me to define exactly what I do on a day to day basis. That will have to do for now.
Cindy: Camille, that sounds awesome. Why don't we start with a little bit of background about the WE Empower Program. Maybe you can tell us what it is and what it does.
Camille: Sure. That would be wonderful. The WE Empower Program is a joint initiative or a joint project, if you will, between UN Women, the International Labour Organization, the ILO, and the European Union. It was established in 2018 and is currently set to run for 3 years. The project is actually supposed to be concluding at the end of 2020. Our number one objective is to encourage responsible business conduct in G7 countries. Our program theme is the Future Works. We consider the future work in all that we do. I realize that, again, it's super vague and probably not very helpful. I feel like that might be a theme for everything that I'm going to be saying today. But basically, we want to advance gender equality in the workplace and push for women's economic empowerment, while keeping in mind that our economy is constantly changing and that the workplace that we know today will likely not exist in the next 10 to 15 years. We work to ensure that gender equality discussions are all had while trying to adjust to our changing economy. The crux of our work is based on the Women's Empowerment Principals. They form a guideline for what responsible business conduct looks like.
Roberto: Great. So what are the Women's Empowerment Principals?
Camille: The Women's Empowerment Principals are a broad framework. Again, with my theme of being broad and vague, created to help guide businesses in their journey to gender equality. Again, super vague, super broad explanation, but the Women's Empowerment Principals were designed to be broad and vague on purpose. So that they may be more easily applied in all kinds of work places and businesses. There is 7 different principals which range from commitments on health and safety to transparency and accountability as well as supply chain diversity. When we're talking about these principals and these commitments, it's important to note that it's not just for women and it's for all genders, on the spectrum. While the language on the actual Women's Empowerment Principals might actually talk about just women and men, we have to keep in mind that these principals were created back in 2010 and are understanding of gender equality, and the discussions around gender equality has evolved a lot since then in a mere 10 years. So it's important to recognize that when we talk about commitments for health and safety, we're not just talking about health and safety for women, but we're talking about health and safety across all genders.
Roberto: Great. How did the Women's Empowerment Principals relate to the WE Empower Program?
Camille: Like I mentioned briefly, previously, the WE Empower Program leverages the Women's Empowerment Principals. Part of the work that we do is to encourage organizations in the private sector to sign on to the Women's Empowerment Principals. For example, earlier this summer I contacted yours truly, Gowling WLG, to encourage them to sign on and this is exactly what happened.
Roberto: Yeah. It's amazing. We were really happy for you to reach out and always looking for opportunities. You're talking about vagueness but it's certainly a high level of flexibility, which I think makes it accessible, and hopefully a bunch of people are hearing this today and showing some interest, and hopefully a few other law firms will be prodding you shortly. What commitments must an organization make to comply to the Women's Empowerment Principals.
Camille: Another really important concept or idea that comes with the Women's Empowerment Principals is that there's no specific compliance requirements to becoming a signatory of the Women's Empowerment Principals. A lot of times when we contact organizations, or approach organizations, about signing the Women's Empowerment Principals one of the concern is well, we're not compliant in most of these categories so we're not doing enough. They feel that the organization is inadequate in all of the different principal areas for the broader signing on process. What we're actually looking to do is encourage organizations, no matter their level of compliance, to sign on. Becoming a signatory is merely a first step in the right direction. Of course, when it comes time to following the principals, an organization will have to make certain commitments. For example, to comply with principal 1, which is to establish high level corporate leadership in gender equality, an organization might put together a gender equality committee or council, or name someone VP Diversity and Inclusion, which we have seen done in the past. But at the outset, when an organization is looking to sign on to the principals, or make a commitment to the principals, there is no minimum requirement of compliance that is required.
Cindy: Okay. In the spirit of encouraging maybe some of our listeners to become signatories as well could you tell us about the benefits to a signatory of making this commitment?
Camille: Sure. I think maybe that's just because I work in this area and I've seen it all and I know the statistics but I think the results usually speak for themselves. It's kind of like asking, "What are the benefits of gender equality? What are the benefits of womens economic empowerment?" The Women's Empowerment Principals simply provide a framework for organizations who want to make gender equality a reality, but don't necessarily know how to put their words to actions, or their thoughts to actions. Organizations that would like a step by step guide, it makes it easier for organizations to implement gender equality in their business strategy. I don't know that there are specific examples of the benefits that I can give you right now, of making a commitment to the Women's Empowerment Principals, but what I can say is that making a commitment to the Women's Empowerment Principals is essentially making a commitment to gender equality and making a commitment to women's economic empowerment in the workplace.
Cindy: From a practical perspective, as organizations think about maybe what they need on their end before signing up, I know you mentioned there's no level of compliance that is required but what types of resources are needed or helpful to make this commitment?
Camille: I think it all depends on the areas of the organization that need work. Upon considering signing on to the principals, or when you do begin the process, the forms that you need to fill out will ask you what are some of the practices that you have in place to encourage womens economic empowerment. Or there's also a section that you answer some questions and it will kind of evaluate where you are in terms of your compliance and commitment and whatnot. Sometimes the resources that an organization will need will be very limited. Mostly if the organization already has a solid structure in place to address issues of gender equality but sometimes, for example, in the case of principal 7, which encourages organizations to measure and publicly report on their progress to achieve gender equality, it might require more resources. If the organization has an audit team in place already that can take on this kind of work it will be less difficult. But if they don't it might require the organization to put out a little bit more resources behind their commitment and say, "Okay, we're going to hire, externally, an audit team to do a full audit of, for example, our equal pay strategy." Or, "Where we are in terms of a split in management between men and women." All these kinds of evaluations that we can do in an organization that need a neutral third party to get involved. But, the important thing that I want to reiterate is that, again, none of these principals are mandatory. I can promise you that UN Women is not going to come knocking at your door to revoke your signature if the organization is not compliant. But, then again, I ask what is the point of signing on to something if you're not actually going to follow through with it. It's kind of like getting a gym membership and never stepping foot in the gym. The intention is there but it's absolutely pointless if you don't put in the work and the effort.
Roberto: I can tell you, internally with Gowling WLG with this type of initiative, it's helpful when we're framing some of our internal discussions and it provides a nice frame of reference for why we're pushing forward things we should be pushing forward. It's helpful in terms of identifying gaps. It does provide a high level of value just in terms of our experience to date. But what does the WE Empower Program and UN Women hope to achieve through the initiative?
Camille: Gender equality!
Roberto: That's the one.
Camille: Let's go. Why not, right? No, well, in all seriousness I think that we recognize that this objective, this gender equality objective, is not achievable overnight. It's a constant push, a constant effort. What we want to do through this program, because we realize that we're limited in the time that we have, is that we want to shed light on the issues that still plague our work place. No matter how quote advanced unquote our economies may be because a lot of times you're like, "Oh! In Canada we have it so great. Women are represented in all spheres of the economy, in all spheres of the market place. There's no issues for women and men. No problem. We have parental leave. We have maternity leave. Everything is golden." But realistically people on the inside know that's not exactly the truth. Yes, maybe in comparison to other developed countries, we have it a little bit better but there's still definitely issues that need to be worked on. We want to involve more organizations and more people in our efforts. We're here to shed light on issues, provide some possible solutions, bridge gaps and facilitate discussions.
Roberto: That's great. Is there anything else you'd like to add about the program?
Camille: Of course. I would like to add one quick work about our Flex for Empowerment campaign. I'm super excited about the campaign. Mostly because I really love our hashtag but I also really love what it stands for. We started this campaign to bring more awareness to the WE Empower Program because, unless you're really in the inner circle, I think there's a bit of a communication or awareness problem about the WE Empower Program. We're here to encourage more organizations through the campaign to become signatories of the Women's Empowerment Principals, but we also felt that a lot of gender equality discussions tend to fall on the negative, or more pessimistic side of things. Quite understandably so because we have so much work to do and it can seem a little bit daunting but what we were hoping to achieve through this campaign to share about the good that is also happening, motivating people to keep pushing for, despite how hard it is. We want people to flex, to brag, about what their organizations are doing to support women. Or what they have been doing in their day to day lives to push for gender equality or what they have seen in, I don't know, 10 years of working at a certain organization that is relevant to gender equality and has a positive spin. If you're interested, and I hope that you all are, you can see how people are flexing on Twitter by doing a quick search of our hashtag. I'll remind you all that our hashtag is #flexforempowerment or in French, if you prefer, #vanterpourlégalité. You can join the conversation with either hashtags and we'll likely like your tweet or share it on our platform so you can become an international WE Empower superstar.
Cindy: Alright. That sounds great. Hopefully this episode can be an example of a flex for empowerment. Camille, thank you so much for being here with us today. For our listeners, if you ever have any questions, comments or ideas for topics and guests please look us up at gowlingwlg.com and get in touch with us. We'd love to hear from you. Also, please make sure to check out the show notes for this episode at diversonomics.com. Last, but not least, make sure to subscribe on Apple podcasts so you don't miss an episode. While you're at it leave us a review to let us know what you think. You can follow me on Twitter at @ckoutweets. Camille, anything you'd like to share or promote?
Camille: I just want to say thank you so, so much for having me. I love sharing about what I do. Thank you for allowing me to share with all your listeners and thank you for allowing me to flex for empowerment. For all those that are interested you can follow us on Twitter as well at @empower_women and you can learn more about the Womens Empowerment Principals by going on our website. It's empowerwomen.org/weps and don't forget to flex for empowerment.
Roberto: For those interested in signing onto the initiative, or learning more about it, you can check our show notes for contact information on how to do that. I'm also pleased to speak with you as well so don't hesitate to reach out to me as well if you want to talk about Gowling WLG's experience with the program. For our listeners, you can also follow me on Twitter at @robaburto. Diversonomics was presented to you by Gowling WLG, produced by Rachael Reid and edited by Matt Rideout.
About WE EMPOWER:
WE EMPOWER is a joint-initiative of UN Women, the European Union and the International Labour organization established in 2018.
This initiative seeks to promote responsible business conduct in G7 countries through multi-stakeholder dialogues and by leveraging the Women's Empowerment Principles; bringing together business leaders and other stakeholders from various sectors and industries to support the implementation of the G7 Roadmap for a gender responsive economic environment.
The overall objective of the project is to support sustainable, inclusive and equitable economic growth by promoting women's economic empowerment (WEE) in the public and private sector in G7 countries. More specifically, the project will facilitate dialogue and exchanges amongst G7 and EU countries public and private sectors; and engage with the private sector in the elimination of gender inequality faced by working women.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.