21 June - Nearly 40 chief executive officers representing companies from across the world today became the first group of business leaders to endorse a United Nations-led initiative to empower women by promoting gender equality in corporate workplaces, markets and communities.

The initiative, dubbed the CEO Statement of Support for the Women's Empowerment Principles – Equality Means Business, and supported by the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) and the UN Global Compact, encourages business leaders to use female empowerment principles to guide actions that advance their welfare.

Those signing the principles acknowledge that the equal treatment of women and men is not only the right thing to do, but it is also good for business.

“These initial signers of the CEO Statement are practicing the very first Women's Empowerment Principle that leadership promotes gender equality. These executives are affirming the high-level support necessary for the Women's Empowerment Principles to gain traction in individual companies and their cultures,” said Inés Alberdi, UNIFEM's Executive Director.

Women continue to be vastly under-represented in top corporate positions and in management boards, according to UNIFEM.

The partnership initiative of UNIFEM and the UN Global Compact, a mechanism designed to foster responsible business practices, also offers corporations a new tool to work with the UN to advance the social development and poverty alleviation targets known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), particularly the goal related to gender equality and empowerment of women.

A high-level private sector forum will be held in New York to coincide with the UN's 2010 September Summit on the MDGs.

Today's leading signatories, who represent firms ranging from manufacturing companies to consulting and investment multinationals, urged other leaders across the global business community to join them.

Their call will be repeated at the UN Global Compact Leaders Summit on Thursday and Friday, when more than 1,000 CEOs, government ministers, heads of civil society and the UN will meet in New York to discuss how to build a new era of environmental sustainability – a time when environmental, social and governance issues will be deeply integrated into business based on both material and ethical rationales.