Barclays, Vodafone Join UN Initiative to Promote Gender Parity

  • Ten companies agree to increase percentage of female workers
  • HeForShe equality report released at World Economic Forum

Barclays Plc, Twitter Inc., Vodafone Group Plc and seven other companies are joining forces with the United Nations to raise awareness that not enough is being done to help women reach parity in the global workplace.

The companies, with about 1 million employees combined and all run by men, have agreed to increase the percentage of women among the total workforce, new hires, top executives and board members by 2020, according to a UN report being unveiled Friday at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Swtizerland.

“The men are the ones who are often holding the keys to the doors we are trying to open, so we’re trying to reach them so that women are not just banging on the doors all the time,” Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the UN’s top official on gender equality and former South African deputy president, said in a phone interview. “We’re giving the responsibility to the people who can make it happen.”

The UN, through Mlambo-Ngcuka’s UN Women group, is pushing to have leadership reflect the 40 percent ratio of women to men in the global labor force. Without intervention, the World Economic Forum estimates that it may take 80 years for women to reach parity in leadership in the world’s companies.

Getting Involved

The share of women among top executives at the participating companies ranged from 11 percent at McKinsey & Co. to 43 percent at Unilever PlcKoc Holding AS reported that 25 percent of its employees and 7 percent of its board members are women, while Schneider Electric SE said 34 percent of its new hires are female. Tupperware Brands Corp. and Barclays already have a majority of female employees, while Accor SA, McKinsey and PwC exceed 40 percent, though they fall below targets in other study areas.

Each company has agreed to encourage men to get more involved in helping to hire, retain and promote women, with 60,000 male workers signing up to support the initiative, called HeForShe. Vodafone was among companies that added parental-leave policies to make it easier for women to stay in the workforce.

Davos Co-Chairs

The initiative was rolled out last year at Davos by the UN group, which said the number of female participants at the forum this year rose to about 18 percent from 17 percent, with 27 percent of the panel roles going to women. For the first time this year, half the co-chairs are women.

In a similar trend, U.S. technology companies such as Apple Inc., Alphabet Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Facebook Inc. have started to voluntarily disclose breakdowns of race and gender among their workforce and promote initiatives to close the gaps as they face pressure from investors.

In its own diversity move, the UN said in December that for the first time in its 70-year history it will open up the selection process for secretary-general and urge women to apply. Eight men have held the top job.

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