Did you ever have a few days that challenged your point of view? I recently had two of those days. Marie Jordan (@Marie_jordan1) and I (@CWarren_SG) were fortunate enough to have tickets to a conference sponsored by the UN Global Compact on Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEP). http://weprinciples.org/ Hillary Clinton was set to keynote the two day event while Geena Davis would close it. How could one say no to that? It didn’t hurt that the first day of the event was held at the UN with full, real-time translation; something I hadn’t experienced since the 90s when I was working in Peru. It’s a special feeling to be in the company of highly intelligent, passionate people from around the world, knowing you will hear their thoughts, in their words. Sitting in stadium style, posh seating made for a very comfortable way to engage on these crucial issues.
If you want this blog in pdf, click on the link: UN Global Compact on Women’s Empowerment Principles EssayUnited Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon started the two day session by acknowledging that gender equity would only become a reality if the private sector worked tirelessly alongside governments, the UN, and civil society. His commitment was clear. After his remarks, he warmly welcomed the former First Lady and former Secretary of State and in his words, future President of the US.
The honorable Hillary Clinton, longtime champion of women’s rights, shared many facts to rev up the crowd. Men and women who understand that gender equality is “not just morally right but the smart thing to do” are growing in numbers. Did you know that achieving gender parity in the US would result in a 10% growth in GDP? Pretty powerful information for an issue that has often been pushed off Board room agendas and relegated as a soft, non-business issue. She said, “The unfinished business of the 21st century is achieving gender parity and I look forward to when we can say it’s done.” She talked about the fact that she is a grandmother and related that her mother was born before women had the right to vote, saying she was made of “Grit and Grace”. That imagery pervaded the two days as speakers found kinship with the sentiment and allowed the image to continue to form in all our hearts.
Joe Keefe, President and Chief Executive Office of Pax World Fund was the co-chair of the event and eloquently shared his perspective on why WEPs are crucial to the 21st century. He and his firm are so serious about them, that they’ve created a women’s empowerment index fund consisting of companies who have signed the global compact. The theory is that companies who have achieved gender parity will have better financial performance and therefore should be invest-ed in. Attracting businesses to the discussion by providing business cases seemed to resonate throughout the stadium hall.
Stories were shared that afternoon, poignant and truly life changing for women in remote places.
The one that resonated most with me was shared by Gustavo Pérez Berlanga; who is the Corporate Social Responsibility VP at Toks, a restaurant chain based in Mexico which has 130+ restaurants nationwide and over 10,000 employees. He saw the toll that was taken on women in remote villages when their men had to go far away for work; leaving them in poverty to raise the children. Often their husbands would have only a few weeks off at Christmas, but be gone the rest of the year. Inevitably, they would send money home for a few weeks or months post the Christmas visit and then stop sending the life giving pesos. Berlanga wanted to find a way to em-power these women and raise the standard of living for them and their children, but how? He decided to get out in the field and truly listen to these women, to hear their stories and better under-stand their needs from their perspectives. What he heard? We need money and we need it now, before we produce one thing! Imagine this businessman listening to these rural women who’ve plucked up the courage to tell him exactly what they need and when he hears it, knows that it’s something that traditionally no business would do. But what does Berlanga do? He took a calculated risk, paid the women up front and in his words, went to church to pray! He believes in them and wants them to succeed. The women got their first contract to make jam, in fact more jam than they’ve made in their lives and in less time than they’ve ever made it. They produced 800 jars and unbeknownst to them, Toks checked the quality on every one and found it exemplary! This begins a long term relationship that has fundamentally changed the future for these women, their children and their families. Berlanga has found a way to bring gender parity to rural Mexican women in a place and in a way that most would have decried “Impossible” and walked away. Talk about inspirational!!
The Australians are, yet again, far ahead of the rest of the world when it comes to taking concrete action to achieve gender parity. Liz Broderick, the Sex Discrimination Commissioner shared a ground breaking approach to making gender equity a reality in the coming years. She literally called up the top 25 CEOs in Australia and asked them to come discuss the business case for gender parity. What unfolded after that has been nothing short of remarkable and provides a strong platform for others to launch their own initiatives without having to learn all the lessons on their own. These CEOs, all men, are making history and are often found asking, “50/50, if not, why not?” and then taking action. Can you imagine? There is so much we can learn from their journey. Hearing Liz tell the tales was poignant and inspiring. She shared that the first four months was therapy for the CEOs who were coming to terms with the issue and realizing the situation was not good and at the same time learning a new language, the second four months was looking critically at the situation, and then it was on to action planning and making a true difference. Want to know more? Visit http://malechampionsofchange.com/.
Germany’s powerhouse, Manuela Schwesig, discussed the new law requiring companies to have 30% women senior execs and management personnel. Today, there is a 22% pay gap be-tween men and women in Germany. This new, hard won law will start to change the economics and bring gender equity in Germany and may serve as the forerunner for the rest of the European Union.
Sallie Krawcheck, formerly CFO at big firm names such as SmithBarney and Merrill Lynch, now leads Ellevate, an organization for women to connect and use their collective buying power. She shared that a women’s #1 reason for accepting a job is meaning & purpose, while men’s is money. Most women, while they need the baseline pay, are not as motivated by money and their focus on what matters most to them is starting to increase that baseline pay. Women are now starting twice the number of new businesses as men and the basis for their businesses are meaning and purpose. I’m betting they won’t have the same issues traditional businesses have with attracting and retaining women.
You may know this, but I did not. When an under represented group reaches 33% of the population, it has a voice. When women are often only 17-18% of the population, they have no voice. If you want to set metrics, % of population is a good one to track. Measure what you treasure.
The second day of the conference offered numerous opportunities to network, participate in workshops, and hear more amazing success stories. Participating in the unconscious bias work-shops gave me a chance to explore my own biases; we all have bias and they are not good or bad – they just are. It’s really important to know what yours biases are and to notice them in different situations so you can actively choose how you want to respond instead of going on autopilot. The workshop offered a way to test your bias at the Diverseco website (https://businessiats.diverseo.com/contracts/12) . I encourage you to better understand yourself and take control of your decisions.
The two days went swiftly by and before we knew it, Geena Davis was arriving. How lucky was I? Pretty lucky as she sat right next to me for a few moments as she finalized her speech and made her way up to the podium. What an impactful woman! She really is as bright and beautiful as she looks on screen and she is making a difference for women everywhere. Her media institute spent countless hours reviewing films from a gender perspective. What’d they found was stunning, not only to them, but to studios across America. When they analyzed crowd scenes, women represented about 17% of the population. Shockingly, in real life, that is about the percentage of women lawyers, congresswomen, engineers….and the list goes on. Is real life imitating the big screen? What if, just by fixing the gender equity on screen, the gender inequity in real life was accelerated towards parity? Well, Geena and her team intend to find out as they make studios aware of the inequity we will have to watch this space and see what happens!
Geena also shared another shocking fact. As you may recall, she played the first woman president on TV a few years back. In fact there were 19 episodes of her show and as a direct result of that show, 60% of the American population now can picture a woman being president! She had the good fortune to talk with the president of Iceland, a woman, who shared with her that she received letters from little boys asking if she thought that one day they could be president?! So I say – Geena – keep up the good work!
I’m proud to work for a company and a CEO, Steve Holliday, who has signed the Women’s Empowerment Principles. I can see the principles in play at National Grid (www.nationalgrid.com) on a daily basis and I’m proud to be part of a leadership team that puts them into action. 34% of our engineers are women and I can now say that they have a legitimate voice since we are more than 33% of the population! 36% of the U.S. executive team are women and yes, we have a voice. I hope that you too are proud to work at National Grid!