NEW YORK -- At a recent news conference held here, Calvert, a socially responsible investment management firm headquartered in Bethesda, Md., unveiled new corporate guidelines it created for the proper ethical and moral treatment of women workers. The news event was co-sponsored by Calvert and the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), which provides financial and technical support for the enhancement of women's rights.

Created by Calvert after two years by consulting with dozens of organizations, "The Calvert Women's Principles" represent the world's first formalized corporate code of conduct for the fair treatment of women. The seven core principles compel both private and publicly traded companies worldwide to adopt employment policies addressing fair and equal wages, training and professional development programs, hiring and promotional opportunities for women and policies designed to ensure women's health and safety in the workplace.

Calvert has thrown its energies into the new women's principles by agreeing to gradually add these principles to its socially responsible research and screening process. In the future, Calvert also intends to issue ratings on corporations on how well they adhere to the new principles. The rating system will function as a report card, and will serve as a way to engage companies in discussions about, and raise awareness of, women's employment issues.

In addition, Calvert will use the development of these principles as the jumping off point to develop specific tool kits for corporations to help them implement the principles and may even sponsor conferences to discuss corporate best practices.

"The idea of the [Calvert Women's Principles] is to create a much better life for women all over the world," said Noeleen Heyzer, executive director of UNIFEM. "It is enlightened business to invest in women."

Why did Calvert decide to create the women's principles? "We are not a development agency and are not gender issues experts, but a socially responsible firm and advocate of greater corporate responsibility," said Barbara Krumsiek, president and CEO of Calvert. "We have a role to play in influencing corporate conduct. We cannot disempower or marginalize one-half of the population."

Krumsiek acknowledged that although there is a strong financial case to be made for businesses that embrace gender equity, it may be more difficult for some companies than others to implement Calvert's best practices. Consequently, Calvert has incorporated graduated levels of adherence into each principle. For example, companies across the globe that may not be positioned to, as of yet, pay a "living wage" to all women employees might follow the first suggested step of simply paying the current legal wage to all female employees. Moreover, the principles have been broadly created so as to allow for custom variations from firm to firm.

The socially conscious firm has some big corporate muscle in its corner. Specifically, executives with Dell Computer of Austin, Texas, coffee retailer Starbucks Corp. of Seattle, and pharmaceutical giant Pfizer of New York all discussed how they currently support the rights of women and announced their intentions to further incorporate the new Calvert principles.

Pat Nathan, the sustainable business director at Dell, noted that all of her firm's employees already must go through "offensive training" aimed at preventing physical, sexual and verbal abuse and harassment of workers. Pfizer already supports women's movement into managerial positions and into its corporate board of directors, said Rosemary Kenney, Pfizer's senior project manager of corporate governance. In 2002, the firm initiated a sales leadership incentive, under which managers' bonuses are based, in part, on the number of women seeking to move into leadership positions.

This year, Starbucks expects to spend $63 million supporting businesses owned by women, predominantly coffee farmers, suppliers and exporters in Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Asia, said Sandra Taylor, senior vice president of corporate responsibility at Starbucks. Moreover, the firm offers price premiums to those in the Starbucks' supply chain who support their local hospitals and other civic organizations, she said. That initiative speaks to one of the new Calvert principles that encourages companies to protect the rights of women to fully participate in civic life, without being subject to discrimination or exploitation.

Although the intent behind the new corporate women's principles is to bring a standard to companies across the globe, "The Calvert Women's Principles will be an enormous tool for us right here at home," predicted Kathy Rodgers, president of Legal Momentum. "Many think we've cured discrimination against women here in the U.S.," she said. But in reality, employment discrimination is still rampant domestically, as evidenced by women continuing to be segregated into lower-paying job sectors, facing barriers to jobs not considered women's work, and the lack of a system of quality and affordable child care, such as the one that exists in Europe, she said.

"These are aspirational guidelines," acknowledged Diane White, senior diversity consultant with Calvert. "There is no corporation now in full compliance of these principles. But we are asking all corporations to reach the minimum standards."

Copyright 2004 Thomson Media Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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