Joe Keefe was recently awarded with the 2014 Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs) Leadership Award. Presented at the United Nations headquarters in New York City, the WEPs Leadership Awards salute exceptional CEOs for their championship of gender equality and support for the seven Principles, in particular Principle One, which urges companies to establish high-level corporate leadership for gender equality. Below are Keefe’s acceptance remarks.
When I speak to financial professionals and other gatherings about investing in women or promoting gender diversity on corporate boards, I am sometimes asked: why do I, as a man, care about this issue? This would be like asking a white American during the 1960’s why they were supporting Dr. King and the civil rights movement, or asking a white South African 25 years ago why they supported Nelson Mandela and the struggle against Apartheid. The civil rights movement wasn’t just for African Americans; it was for all Americans. The anti-Apartheid struggle wasn’t just for black South Africans; it was for all South Africans. Gender equality isn’t just for women. It’s for all of us.
Today, across the globe, in many different countries and in many different guises, we still have the equivalent of Jim Crow laws, we still have a system of Apartheid, when it comes to women. Gender inequality is the defining human rights issue of our time.
Another defining feature of our time is that many governments, across the globe, are struggling with varying degrees of dysfunction and failure. Political institutions and policy makers too often fail to deliver. This crisis of the public sector creates an opportunity—and an obligation—for business corporations to step into the breach. After all, our global economy is driven by business corporations. If we are to make significant progress toward achieving gender equality in our lifetime, businesses will not only have to be at the table, they must become major drivers of change.
This is why the Women’s Empowerment Principles are so vital. The Principles give businesses and corporate leaders the framework and the tools they need to exert leadership in promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment. That is why at Pax World, the company I lead, an asset management firm that invests in companies around the world, we use the Principles in engaging with the companies we invest in. We understand the business case for advancing women and we want the businesses we invest in to understand it as well. We promote the Principles and we ask the companies in our investment portfolios to endorse the Principles. Just last year, in the aftermath of the tragic Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh, where 90% of the victims were women, we wrote to companies across the garment industry asking them to endorse the Women’s Empowerment Principles as a positive step they could take to assure that such tragedies do not happen again. It is situations like these that demand implementation of the Women’s Empowerment Principles.
By advancing the business case for gender equality, we can advance the moral case. The Women’s Empowerment Principles show us the way.
By bestowing this award, you are really bestowing it upon all of Pax World’s employees and all of our shareholders who care so deeply about advancing and empowering women—in the workplace and beyond. I accept it in their name, and as your encouragement to us, to press forward with this important work. I promise you that we will do our best to be worthy of this award.