Business Practice

Companies Leading the Way

Empowering women and achieving gender equality – the goals of the Women’s Empowerment Principles - requires intentional actions and deliberate policies. The WEPs are based on concrete business practices and have inspired companies around the world to tailor existing policies and programmes – or establish needed new ones – to realize women’s empowerment.

What follows is a sampling of good practices gathered from online searches or submitted by UN Global Compact participants in response to our call to share actions and initiatives that their companies are undertaking to empower and advance women. Additional examples are available here.

The actions and policies adopted by these companies demonstrate the abundance of ways that business can contribute to the advancement of women’s empowerment around the world. The examples hail from companies representing a broad range of sectors and regions, demonstrating the universal relevance and practicality of women’s empowerment and gender equality. These working examples have not necessarily been reviewed by the companies concerned and may be subject to further editing. Nor have they been through any vetting process. They are intended to raise awareness of the many ways in which business can promote gender equality in the workplace, marketplace and community. We hope that they will inspire other businesses to take action to empower women and that this collection of good practices by companies around the world will continue to grow.

A searchable database of company examples will be available shortly.

This month's focus:

Companies taking action to support women's right to health


Learn more about this month’s topic in our newest Call to Action: Investing in Women’s Right to Health! 


Banco de Brazil 

Banco do Brasil was the first financial institution in Brazil to allow women employees six months maternity leave on full pay, which is also available if adopting children under eight years. They have exceeded Brazilian national requirements of 120 days for paid maternity leave, by more than six weeks. Additionally, women are entitled to return to the same job they were holding before leave, in order to avoid adverse effects on their career advancement. 


Intel and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)

In an effort to combat the high number of unnecessary deaths during pregnancy and childbirth, Intel and UNFPA announced in 2012 a joint commitment to strengthen the skills of midwives and community health workers through technology and training materials from the two organizations. The programme aims at using innovative technologies offered by Intel in improving access, training, skills and capacities of frontline healthcare workers and midwives. In addition, this partnership will have a major impact on health systems, as it will enable one time data recording and transmission by frontline health workers; ensure timely service delivery where needed; and aid performance of quality health diagnostics through necessary tools, as well as remote supervision of the healthcare workforce.


Itaipu Binacional 

In response to domestic violence and in order to raise awareness of the issue, Itaipu took steps to create a shelter for women survivors of domestic violence along with a referral and information Support Center. Itaipu includes both women and men on their Management Committee of Gender Equality and participates in the White Ribbon Campaign, sending a clear public message that violence against women is everyone’s business.


Johnson and Johnson 

In 2010 to accelerate progress toward the Millennium Development Goals, Johnson & Johnson committed $200 million over five years to reach as many as 120 million women and children a year by 2015 in an initiative called Every Mother, Every Child. In June 2014 the company announced a new 5-year, $30 million commitment to increase newborn survival through 2020. The initiative covers at least 20 countries with a focus on training skilled birth attendants in newborn care in India, Nigeria, China and Ethiopia – countries with some of the highest concentrations of newborn deaths – and improving the health knowledge of pregnant women and mothers to help them care for themselves and their newborns.


Levi Strauss Foundation and Business for Social Responsibility (BSR)

Levi Strauss Foundation and BSR conducted a study of HERproject’s workplacetraining programs intended to demonstrate the business returns of employer provided health information and services. HERproject trainings generally cover reproductive and maternal health, personal hygiene, STIs, and family planning. From 2007-2010, with technical assistance from a USAID family planning project, they collected data from programs at four factories located in Egypt and Pakistan. Along with finding an increase in overall health knowledge, the study found that in one of the Egyptian factories 82% of workers took actions to improve their health based on information received from peer educators. HERproject also found to deliver an ROI of US $4:$1 in the same factory, in the form of reduced absenteeism and turnover.



Merck for Mothers is a 10-year, $500 million initiative focused on creating a world where no woman has to die from complications of pregnancy and childbirth. Drawing on the company’s history of discovering innovative, life-saving medicines and vaccines, Merck for Mothers is applying Merck’s scientific and business expertise to reduce maternal mortality around the world. Merck for Mothers is also a co-founder of Saving Mothers, Giving Life, a public-private partnership with the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Every Mother Counts, the Government of Norway, Project C.U.R.E., and the U.S. government that builds on existing HIV/AIDS and maternal and child health platforms in Sub-Saharan Africa and aims to reduce delays faced by women in seeking and reaching services, and receiving quality care.


Novo Nordisk 

Novo Nordisk focuses on non-communicable diseases. Its Changing Future Life initiative, one of several of long-term health initiatives, commits to advancing the prevention of non-communicable diseases with a focus on improving maternal, newborn and child health. Novo Nordisk also works to fight gestational diabetes through its partnership with the World Diabetes Foundation.


Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) and The Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN)

BSR and GAIN commit to help improve nutrition and reduce anemia among girls in late adolescence and women of reproductive age, working in the garment industry in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The three-year program will develop an intervention model that combines food supplementation, behavior change interventions, empowerment of workers to request and utilize quality health and nutrition services, and advocacy for better breastfeeding opportunities and child care facilities in the workplace. 

Good practices:

Companies advancing women's empowerment and gender equality



Agbar, a Spanish public services holding company has committed to helping victims of domestic violence by signing an agreement with the Catalan Parliament to facilitate job placement of women victims.

In November 2008, Agbar and the Ministry of Employment of the Government of Catalonia signed an agreement to hire women who had suffered gender-based violence. Each of the nine companies who signed the agreement, which is in its first pilot phase, with the Government of Catalonia Ministry of Employment are committed to hire at least three women who had suffered gender-based violence. In order to carry this out, each company defined the professional profiles of the positions to be filled as well as the training needs of the people who would have to fill them. Based on this information, the Government selected the most suitable candidates and trained them.

Agbar hired three women after signing the contract and today two of them are still on the permanent staff. During the women’s employment at Agbar, Human Resources tracks the progress and safety of the person through phone conversations and visits to the work centre. For reasons of confidentiality, only the HR Manager, the Head of Selection and the head of the area in which the person works are aware of the circumstances. This way, greater sensitivity can be shown when it comes to matters regarding work tasks or, in particular, the balance of work and home life. If the department head has any doubt or query, he or she directly contacts the Head of Selection on how to proceed.



Allens, is a leading international law firm with partners, lawyers and corporate services staff across Asia and Australia, and a global network spanning 40 offices and 29 countries. Since 2002, its professional development programs have included programs specifically focused on the engagement, career and professional development and promotion of women in the firm. In 2009, Allens reinvigorated and extended its professional and career development programs for women.

Building on an existing mentoring program, the firm introduced a structured twelve-month external mentoring program to help support and accelerate the development of its outstanding female professionals.  Selection is based on objective criteria and mentees and mentors are matched through an independent external provider. Although not limited, the primary role of the mentor is to offer support, strategic advice and inspiration. Since 2009, 17 women have taken part in the program and have reported an "increase in confidence, courage, skills and networks to manage a range of professional and personal challenges". Of those participants, eight have been promoted to partnership or senior management.


Banco do Brasil

Banco do Brasil, a leading Brazilian bank, has put a number of initiatives in place to promote employees with parental demands.

Maternity leave: Banco do Brasil was the first financial institution in Brazil to allow women employees six months maternity leave on full pay, which is also available if adopting children under eight years old. Women are entitled to return to the same job they were doing before leave, in order to avoid adverse effects on their career advancement. In 2011 alone, 1,680 female employees benefited from this extended leave.

Family life: Banco do Brasil offers a number of other benefits for both women and men to reconcile home and professional life as they start a family and care for children. Some of the key benefits are: food vouchers, paternity or adoption leave, financial reimbursement of expenses for day care center, preschool institutions, domestic help or nanny for parents with children (under 7), assistance for parents with disabled children (over age 7), family-member sick leave and doctors appointments (paid 70% of salary for up to 90 days for cases of illness affecting family members) and marriage leave (8 days).



BBVA, is a financial services company in Spain.

Maternity initiatives, which are one of the three pillars of BBVA's Global Diversity Plan, are aimed at preventing this situation from hindering the professional development of women. Specific measures have been implemented to achieve this goal. In a first stage, maternity leave is covered by a person with similar qualifications in order to prevent women from feeling any type of pressure or guilt due to their pregnancy. Women leave knowing that their colleagues will not be overloaded by their work, and that BBVA guarantees them their same job after finishing their maternity leave. When she returns to work, support is provided for a few weeks by a personal tutor, who may be her own boss. The tutor’s aim is to make the return easier, explaining news and changes that may have happened in the work place in their absence, and guiding her through them. In addition, after a period of approximately one year, a follow-up interview is conducted with the mother in order to obtain an in-depth knowledge of her experience and detect possible areas for improvement. Work circumstances are analyzed and professional development is verified in order to assess if there is brake after maternity. The ultimate goal is to maintain professional development and the recognition of employees’ talent, regardless of the maternity leave.

BBVA is pleased to have achieved in 2012 a ten percentage point increase at the global level in the number of maternity leaves in relation to 2011. Of the women 2,273 that went on maternity leave in 2012, 100% came back to their same jobs.


Calvert Investments

Calvert Investments, a leading U.S. investment firm, launched the Calvert Women’s Principles™ in 2004, as the first global code of corporate conduct focused exclusively on empowering, advancing and investing in women.

The Women’s Principles, consistent with Calvert’s longstanding investment approach, hold that well-governed, socially responsible companies are better positioned to manage risk and deliver long-term value to their shareholders, and reflect the view that there is a strong business case for gender equality. Since their launch, the Principles have offered corporations a set of standards against which they can assess their performance and provided investors with a set of tools to assess corporate progress on gender equality and women’s empowerment. Calvert’s main focus has been on turning the Principles from the aspirational into the operational.

In 2008, Calvert partnered with the City of San Francisco’s Department on the Status of Women and Verité to adapt the Principles for the Bay area. As part of the partnership, the company launched the Gender Equality Principles (GEP) and a companion website ( This resource serves as a one-stop shop to assist companies in implementing and promoting the GEP, by allowing them to establish a baseline, identify areas of strength and opportunities for improvement, leverage extensive indicators and resources, and set concrete goals and objectives to strengthen gender-related policies, practices, and organizational culture.


The Chemical Industries Development (CID)

The Chemical Industries Development (CID) is a leading Egyptian company in the production of the pharmaceutical products. As part of its commitment to promoting gender equality within the company, CID formed a Gender Equity Committee. The Committee, which is composed by CID’s senior managers, has in depth meetings with the assistant technical team to raise awareness about the Gender Equality principles and GEME (Gender Equality Model in Egypt), and to assess gender equality impact on the company. To assess impact the commit conducts a self-assessment questionnaire, develops a training needs assessment and leads trainings and workshops. The committee established several indicators to monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of the company’s gender equity policies. If the evaluation process uncovers areas for improvement, the committee documents and looks for potential changes to strengthen the G.E. model.

In addition to the Gender Equity Committee, CID created a human resources Subcommittee which addresses gender specific recruitment, complaints, training, promotion and evaluation performance. In addition, the Subcommittee collects sex-disaggregated data so that participation of men and women within the firm can be sufficiently analyzed by the committee (see a list of data collected below). All Members of the Committee and Subcommittee are well trained and qualified to undertake their responsibilities as internal auditors of gender equity in the firm and operate under the leadership of a gender equity coordinator and supervised by the CEO. The committees publish their results in the company magazine and in a G.E. manual.

(Data collected: Percentage of male and female employees (as share of total employment); The percent of men and women participating at each level and position; Analysis of the number of personnel who have left the firm and the reasons for leaving; Level of absenteeism for men and women; Number of trainees at each level (Male/Female); Female/Male representation in traveling chances, professional meetings, conferences; Female and male managers have equal opportunities for management training; Men’s and women’s participation in training programs are equal (according to specialization and training needs.)


5by20 - Coca-Cola

5by20 is The Coca-Cola Company' global initiative to enable the economic empowerment of 5 million women entrepreneurs across our value chain by 2020. The Coca-Cola Company is the world’s largest beverage company with more than 500 sparkling and still brands available in more than 200 countries worldwide. Through 5by20, women entrepreneurs around the world – from fruit farmers to retailers to artisans – business skills training courses, access to financial services and access to support networks of peers or mentors to address the barriers they face to business success.

The Coca-Cola Company works with partners around the world to bring 5by20 to life, encouraging innovation, scale-up and replication. For example, UN Women and Coca-Cola work together to leverage UN Women’s reach and influence as a leader in promoting gender equality and economic empowerment in the context of Coca-Cola’s broad global value chain and extensive business expertise. Their $4 million partnership will reach more than 40,000 women in Egypt, Brazil and South Africa over the next three years and will provide valuable insights on sustainable project models that can be scaled up worldwide. By the end of 2012, 5by20 reached 300,000 women total since its launch in 2010. There are 5by20 programs in 12 countries: Brazil, China, Costa Rica, Egypt, Haiti, India, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria, the Philippines, South Africa and Thailand. In the years ahead, Coca-Cola expects to reach every region of the globe as 5by20 grows exponentially.

Dean’s Beans Organic Coffee

Dean’s Beans Organic Coffee - a North American Coffee company, initiated CHICA Comunidad de Hermanas Inteligentes con Corazones Abiertos (Community of Intelligent Sisters with Open Hearts), a community based program in Guatemala.  The program aims to raise self-esteem, gender awareness and create educational and economic opportunities for indigenous teenaged girls in rural Guatemalan coffee villages.

To overcome the cultural barriers to women and girls advancement, CHICA identifies the impediments to self-esteem, uses group peer models to increase self-esteem and ready the girls to go back to school, create educational funds and economic opportunities for the girls to fund their future education and to assist the girls in becoming peer educators, advocates and community leaders. Then, as the girls "graduate" from both the program and their schooling, the program seeks to empower the young women to identify other impediments to their personal and professional growth, advocate for improvements and develop their own programs to address the issues.

The first round of graduating CHICAs identified Reproductive Health as a major impediment to the quality of their lives and their abilities to move forward in the economy and to have a sense of control over their futures. Of the first forty girls who participated in the self-esteem and education aspects of the project, all of whom had left school after the sixth grade, all reentered school and all but two have graduated high school. Half are now in university or college programs. Of those first forty girls all but two have put off their first pregnancy from the average age of fourteen to at least eighteen and only three have gotten pregnant to date. The new training modules on Reproductive Health are taking place right now in the villages and are reported to be popular and successful.


KPMG International

KPMG International, a global consulting firm, together with KPMG in the Netherlands hosts and sponsors a ‘Women in Leadership Program’ in cooperation with Women’s World Banking. Women leaders of microfinance institutions across the world are supported in understanding their unique leadership style and building key leadership capabilities including strategic thinking, making good decisions, and creating and nurturing challenging and supportive relationships. During the six day conference programme on site at a KPMG office, the women leaders of microfinance institutions are linked to mentors who are senior women of KPMG and/or KPMG business relations. With ongoing remote support and mentoring, participants develop a vision for their leadership and create an action plan to achieve this vision in which they are supported by their mentor over the subsequent year. Over the past two years we have provided leadership training to over 40 female leaders from the microfinance sector and related organizations in Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe. This has provided opportunities for over 30 KPMG senior women, besides enhancing their mentoring skills, to interact globally and gain exposure to new industries, cultures and ways of working.

The second leadership programme in 2012, which was hosted in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, witnessed, for the first time the participation of five business relations of KPMG as a mentor. The programme, brought together 21 women in management and leadership roles from 19 microfinance institutions in 11 countries in Sub Saharan Africa and the Middle East. Daily reflection sessions and a final programme evaluation form were used to assess participant satisfaction with various elements of the programme delivery. The overall programme score was 4.7 out of a possible score of 5. Women’s World Banking also conducted a follow-up survey for mentors and mentees in December-January 2013 in order to assess the progress and quality of the mentoring relationships to date. It is clear in the feedback from both mentors and mentees that there is great potential for achieving impact through the workshop and ongoing mentoring relationships.


MAS Holdings

MAS Holdings, a Sri Lankan based company founded in 1986, specializes in the production of intimate apparel and sportswear goods and provides services to such companies as Nike, Gap, and Victoria’s Secret.

In 2003, the company initiated the “Go Beyond Program” in apparel plants in Sri Lanka. The program, targeted at women, provides career development, life skills education and recognition for female garment workers. Prior to the initiative, MAS plants provided meals, banking services, skills building classes and transportation to their garment workers in Sri Lanka; however, the extent and funding of each program was at each plant manager’s discretion. With the “Go Beyond Program”, MAS Holdings established a company- wide framework to standardize and evaluate employee programs at each individual plant based on internally identified best practices. The program identified a four-point framework of empowerment and development based on career advancement, work-life balance, rewarding excellence and community activation. Specific classes included: awareness on domestic violence, stress management, balancing multiple roles of a woman, dressmaking, financial management and computer literacy. During the initial roll-out of the program and based on an impact measurement framework that was developed in July 2004, MAS Holdings’ plants implemented 290 programs in the four thematic areas and reached the average worker 3.7 times in the first year. Since its rollout, the program has been extended to India and Vietnam.



Merck, the second largest global healthcare company in the world, has a deep and longstanding commitment to the advancement of women in the workplace, marketplace and community.

Merck Women’s Leadership Summit 2011: Merck Women’s Network (MWN) and Global Diversity and Inclusion hosted more than 200 female leaders in Munich during March for the second annual Merck/MSD Women's Leadership Summit. Offering a variety of mentoring sessions, executive panels, networking events and workshops, the Merck Women’s Leadership Summit set its sights squarely on ways to retain top women and direct their focus to the future. The Summit was an opportunity for these women to network, learn from each other and develop new strategies and skills to be effective and successful leaders at Merck/MSD. Several Merck senior executive leaders, including Willie Deese, president of Merck Manufacturing Division (MMD), Bruno Strigini, president, Europe/Canada, and Joe Morrissey, senior vice president, Europe, Middle East, Africa and Canada (EMEAC) Operations, MMD were in attendance.



Nestle, a multinational food and beverage company has committed its efforts to promoting and supporting the lives of women in its cocoa supply chain. In India and Pakistan, they employ veterinarians and agronomists to supervise milk routes and provide female dairy farmers with advice on various issues, irrespective of whether or not they are Nestlé suppliers. There is no charge for veterinary services, while medicines are provided at wholesale cost. The costs are adjusted against subsequent milk payments to the farmers, making the medicines affordable. Nestle also supports female farmers in expanding their operations, for example by assisting with artificial insemination programmes for cattle, subsidising the purchase of milking machines and helping them to procure loans.


Novo Nordisk

Novo Nordisk, a global healthcare company headquartered in Denmark, provides life-saving treatments for people with diabetes and rare bleeding disorders. Half of its employees (currently over 32,000) are women. To advance women internally, Novo Nordisk embeds gender diversity into key corporate organizational assurance and accountability processes. For example, annual internal organizational audits require that each business unit rigorously review diversity as one of many key organizational growth drivers, and link business and gender diversity in succession planning. The Balance Score Card promotes, with a common set of measurable gender indicators, accountability and ownership of gender diversity results at the business unit and executive levels. Furthermore, progress towards equal opportunity and inclusion in the workplace is regularly assessed through in-depth interviews with approximately 20% of staff annually.


Pax World Investments

Pax World Investments is a leading sustainable investment firm based in the United States. In the wake of the tragic collapse of a manufacturing facility in Bangladesh that killed more than 1,100 garment workers, Pax World is urging apparel manufacturers and retailers to endorse the Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs) as an effective way to address workplace safety concerns globally for garment workers, the majority of whom are women. This will be Pax World's fourth campaign to urge companies to sign the WEPs CEO Statement of Support, and since 2010 Pax world has contacted over 160 companies on supporting the WEPs.

In its latest initiative, Pax World wrote letters to more than 125 chief executive officers and women members of the boards of directors at more than 30 leading apparel manufacturers and retailers. The letter urged recipients to endorse, take steps to implement, and publicly report on their progress in adopting the Principles in their own operations and those of their suppliers. The letter to companies emphasized that worker and workplace safety represent substantial areas of reputational, operational and business risks for the garment industry and its investors. Clear instructions were provided as to how to endorse the Principles.



Symantec, a United States software company, implemented the Gender Equity Image Project to promote gender equality within the company. The goal of the program is to work toward the ongoing improvement of gender representation and the reduction of the use of stereotyping imagery at Symantec wherever possible. The project strives to ensure ethical marketing standards by respecting the dignity of women in all sales, promotional, and advertising materials. In 2012 the Corporate Marketing team conducted a benchmark audit to evaluate how gender is represented through imagery at Symantec. We were reviewing for not only presence of gender based imagery but also gender split and position of power. We discovered that overall Symantec relies heavily on the use of non-gender logo based imagery, however, where gender based imagery exists, we have an opportunity to improve.

One of the pieces of the improvement plan was to initiate an annual audit of gender representation in various forms of our marketing communications. This audit uses an Excel spreadsheet to track a range of image categories and their gender statistics (male only, female only, mix of gender, position of power).

Further, in order to promote the Gender Equity Image Project; Symantec has added language to both our Corporate Editorial Style Guide and our Visual Guidelines to educate our marketing and sales organization as well as the agencies we work with to embrace all aspects of diversity, including gender.

The Symantec Gender Equity Image Project uses straightforward and easy-to-understand metrics. Several members of the marketing team evaluated over 300 images across several categories in an effort to understand how gender is represented in Symantec imagery. The initial results were presented to all of the teams with various control areas. Each team committed to a 5 percent improvement in the overall representation of gender in the first year, based on the results of the annual audit.