Building on a background as a Business Lawyer and a State Authorized Public Accountant, Helle Bank Jorgensen brings more than 25 years of experience advising global companies and investors within Corporate Responsibility and Integrated Reporting.
Helle has led PwC’s Sustainability and Climate Change practice in Denmark and in the US, hereof 11 years as a Partner. She now runs B.Accountability advising global businesses and heads the Global Compact Network Canada. In 2014 Helle was chosen as a UN Global Compact Board Facilitator. Helle is also the chair of eRevalue and is a known speaker and author of articles and books and the first in North America to have passed the GRI G4 Exam.
Christopher P. Skroupa: Why is gender equality important to you?
Helle Bank Jorgensen: Because I’ve seen so many examples where business and societies waste 50% of their resources. Also, because I would like my son to grow up in a world where it’s the quality of what he brings to the world and to businesses that determines his possibilities of achieving what he wants to do and become in his life.
Let me tell you a story; my mom had to leave school and start working when she was 13, while her little brother could continue in school and get an opportunity for a better life. It was the norm, and in many places globally, it is unfortunately the norm of today. Needless to say, my mom was happy when I became a Partner with one of the Big4 accounting firms in the country I grew up in. However, I was also the first female partner to have a child, and I became a role model for many women who are way smarter than I, but who have fought hard to break the glass-ceiling or worse, gave up on their dream of either becoming parents or on their dream position.
I have been fortunate enough to have both – and to travel and work in many countries. Unfortunately, I have seen how people are treated based on their gender rather than their knowledge and talents. This is and has been very costly to societies, to business and perhaps to the future of our children and grandchildren.
Skroupa: Why is gender equality important to business?
Bank Jorgensen: It makes business sense. Most smart business leaders would agree that Diversity of Minds in the Boardroom, in the c-suite and in the workforce mean better business. Diversity of Minds does not necessarily mean gender-diversity, but to exclude 50% of the talent does not suggest diversity of minds. And an analysis conducted between April and June 2015 by Grant Thornton reported that the few S&P500 companies that have male-only executive directors missed out on USD 567 BN of investment returns, compared to companies with more diverse boards and women executives.
Further, female graduates in the developed world are now as or better educated than men – so business that is looking to attract and retain talent would be wise to look at the full workforce and ensure gender equality.
Besides the business imperatives, gender equality is a fundamental human right and one of the Sustainable Development Goals that was adopted by all UN member states on September 25th this year. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have been developed with leading businesses via the UN Global Compact.
The Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs), a joint initiative of UN Women and the UN Global Compact, focus on the role of business in achieving gender equality and provide seven Principles for business to follow, covering the workplace, value chain and community. The initiative has grown to more than 1000 signatories globally, and we see an exponential interest. It is a rolling snowball – and you can either get behind it, or try to outrun it with the danger it could have to talent attraction, reputation and financial return.
Gender equality not only makes business sense – it makes world sense.
Skroupa: What are leading businesses doing? What is the business case, and why?
Bank Jorgensen: Leading businesses are signing the CEO Statement of Support for the Women’s Empowerment Principles I talked about. Even though it is called Women Empowerment principles – it is about treating all women and men fairly at work. And I expect that all parents would like to see their kids treated fairly in school as well as in their workplace.