On March 7 and 8, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation Corporate Citizenship Center and the United Nations Office for Partnerships hosted the 6th Annual International Women’s Day Forum.
The event convened public and private sector leaders to discuss gender parity as a significant economic opportunity with global economic effect. Suzanne Clark, EVP at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, opened the conference and set the tone by stating that $28 trillion would be added to the GDP by 2025 if gender equality existed.
Weber Shandwick just released a new study, the Gender Forward Pioneer (GFP) Index, that looked at gender parity in Global Fortune 500 and World’s Most Admired Companies lists and found that while women make up just 10.9 percent of senior leaders in the world’s top 500 companies, companies with strong reputations have twice as many women in senior management as companies with weaker reputations.
Furthermore, of those companies, not one has an equal representation of men and women on their senior management teams and nearly four in 10 companies (37.6 percent) have an all-male senior leadership team.
Gender inequality is a huge drain on society — economically, sustainably, and morally. Entrepreneur, philanthropist and CNN founder Ted Turner created the United Nations Foundation in 1998 as a U.S. public charity. Two decades later, that initiative has helped usher in “a new era of development that is inclusive and universal, and has shifted the idea of corporate social responsibility to corporate social opportunity,” according to Angela Baker, Head of Qualcomm Wireless research.
Qualcomm’s goal is to equip the 1.7 billion women who don’t own a phone with a mobile phone and 3G or 4G connectivity — or, as Baker described it, “mobile for social good.”
“It’s an amazingly effective innovative tool in family-planning,” she said. “In Morocco, we set up a maternal health program offering ultrasound to women to reduce fatalities. The program was sustainable after one year and the government picked it up. Ultrasounds are now sent via 3G to doctors in other countries, reducing time and cost, and as more women came, it crossed over into achieving multiple goals.”
Also on the panel, Microsoft’s Toni Townes-Whitley, Corporate VP of Worldwide Public Sector, spoke of how the Postmaster of India (a woman) used the P.O. to transform a country that is 40 percent rural and without national connectivity.
“Measurement may be the least sexy, but it’s the most important baseline data for women and girls,” Townes-Whitley said. “Data sets are needed and the technology exists. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation focused on women’s unpaid work and found in countries like India, women spend at least 6 hours every day fetching and carrying water and firewood and caring for children.”
Later, in a Leadership Interview*,* Maria Pinelli, Global Vice Chair of Strategic Growth Market at EY, said her company is mentoring women in 25 countries, “but without access to money and mentorship, those female entrepreneurs don’t scale. When the two are combined, 80-90 percent achieve success, while 50 percent fail when those two are not combined.”
“We must set our aspirations higher, working on the business of sustainability and gender equity – not in the business of,” Pinelli asserted. “The lack of women in leadership positions is appalling. We need to build public profiles and brand awareness in creating a strong culture of leadership development. Involving women increases business success by 6 percent, but it will take us 117 years to achieve gender parity at the current rate.
“We must build a pipeline illuminating the path to leadership. We must change policy and reexamine quotas. We need structure for seeing what sponsorship looks like for celebrating women and best practices,” Pinelli continued. “30 percent is the magic number for critical mass. We must allow for failure in entrepreneurship. And the media has a key role: By Grade 5, the Cinderella syndrome takes girls over.”
In the final Leadership Interview of the day, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN Under-Secretary General and Executive Director of UN Women, made some powerful assertions about what she saw as necessary next steps for gender equality in business.
“The struggle for gender equality has to have an expiration date. Equal pay for women must be achieved by 2030. There must be zero tolerance for violence against women and girls and laws must be made against unpaid care-work. Down with the motherhood penalty. Old men must stop marrying children. Society in 2030 must be activists that are 50/50 men and women.”
Mlambo-Ngcuka was interviewed by Michael Fenlon, Global and US Talent Leader and Principal at PwC, who added, “We are all biased. Men audit their personal networks, which are too homogenous. Women have conferences, books, organizations like Lean-In. What can men do who are looking to engage?”
To help answer those questions, PwC joined the UN’s ‘HeforShe’ initiative and committed to develop and launch an innovative male-focused gender curriculum with global reach and raise the global profile of HeForShe with PwC people, clients and communities.
Mlambo-Ngcuka said in the private sector PwC is a brand of “positive masculinity, one of the trendsetters, along with Vodafone, Twitter and Unilever — all on the frontlines to reaching gender parity.”
She concluded by saying, “The feminists of my era thought of men as the problem. Now we realize they are our partners. Men who are feminists need to ‘come out.’ Ours is a co-destiny. Those holding the door must open it! Start early and engage boys as well. Apartheid inSouth Africacame from participation and sexism with impunity. No one should be tolerant of gender equality.”