Governments need the best and brightest at decision-making tables. They need a diversity of experiences, insights and approaches. And they need to reflect the societies they represent and serve. Only then will they have the diverse points of view and thinking that are crucial to creating better decisions and results.
Unfortunately, there remains much work to be done. The World Economic Forum has reported that men are still being paid much more than women, and their earnings are increasing more rapidly. That’s why this International Women’s Day we are calling on our colleagues, friends and community to #PressforProgress and commit to think, act and be gender inclusive.
Here, we present new insights from women leaders around the world explaining why gender equality and diversity are so important.
I would get rid of International Women’s Day because every day should be about equality. I’m worried that equality and discrimination have been hijacked by women too much. It’s been 100 years in the UK since the Suffragette movement but equality is not just about gender – it’s also about race, creed, accents, regions, sexuality and so on.
As women in the workplace, we need to stop knocking on doors and saying sorry – it’s the first word that comes out of your mouth normally. Secondly, stop going into the workplace to be liked – you’re there to do a job of work. And thirdly, I’d say they should stop sitting in the back of the room. When walking into a meeting, the number of women I know who go for the chair at the end or in the back row is still extraordinary to me.
There’s an urgent need to press for progress on gender equality. The 2017 World Economic Forum Gender Gap Report suggests that the gap is actually widening. This is deeply disturbing. We need to use every available means to increase women’s representation in decision-making and to achieve equality in the workplace and workforce. Societies which don’t move decisively in this direction are not only limiting opportunity and rights for women; they are denying themselves the benefit of drawing on all talents for their advancement. This must change.
Diversity is always an advantage. It improves decision-making in every facet of life, and that includes government and democracy.
In a nutshell, I believe that there are two things that need to change globally. Firstly, unconscious bias – which affects recruiting, performance evaluations and promotion decisions. And secondly, women taking on the largest burden of care for the family and this having a significant and long-term effect on their career (compounding with every child)
So, what needs to happen? We need inclusive and flexible cultures in organisations which value equally women’s and men’s contributions: FLEXIBILITY, FLEXIBILITY, FLEXIBILITY. And we also need to incentivise the shared burden of care. For example, shared parental leave where men are forced to take a good portion of it.
To improve the impact of public policy and government dollars, those who make policy need to better reflect the experiences, lives, and diversity of the communities they serve. The good news is that we are seeing progress in the number of women – and women of colour – who are running for office and filling senior positions at all levels of government. But with women comprising just 12% of US Governors, 21% of US Mayors, 22% of US Senators and 19% of US House Members, we still have a long way to go!
In the last 12 months, we’ve seen extraordinary grassroots and cultural demonstrations in the name of progress. From Washington to Saudi Arabia, and from the tech industry to Hollywood, periods of equilibrium are ending and “silence breakers” are being championed for their courage.
Importantly, we now need to honour their outcry, courage and passion with action. Each of us is capable of playing a role in that by putting a diversity lens over our work and leadership and asking “what have I done for diversity lately?” While progress begins with emotion, expression and ideation, it is cemented by concrete commitment. As we press for progress this year, let’s think about how we seize this momentum to revisit and reset, in pursuit of a more diverse reality.
In my view, change is really a progression. It can be interpreted as an event. The progression I want to be part of – and which I am deliberate about in my own organisation – is the idea of life balance (not work/life balance).
Work is part of my life, and of all of our lives. So, the idea that we somehow see “life” and “work” is opposing forces that require balance is a bit of an anathema to me. So, I advocate for every person to identify and understand what “life balance” looks and feels like for and to themselves, and to have honest conversations in workplaces around that.
It is an individual thing. As leaders, we must progress our openness to creating environments that not only encourage life balance, but actually establish mechanisms for it to be achieved at a personal level. This stems from a trust paradigm of leadership, not a control paradigm. And – critically – we must be able to describe it for ourselves and demonstrate it.
In the year we celebrate 100 years since some women first won the right to vote, we are reminded what our vote means and how hard women before us fought for it. However, there is still more to do because barriers to voting still remain. It’s time to champion 100% of women being able to exercise their right freely without barriers. Women should be able to vote safely and with confidence, no matter their circumstances – in the next century we need to make this a reality.
I worked in government or with government all my life and I am still staggered to hear leaders say they are struggling to break the cycle of women leaving the civil service at senior levels. We talk of progress and things getting better but we have not broken through this challenge yet, not by a long way, there is not a single G20 country where 50% of top government posts are held by women.
Though we change the rules on pay and flexible working, it’s not enough as no one changes the behaviours of leaders (and ministers) that put women off going for top jobs. So, how about we ask women to dictate a new culture of working that everyone can aspire to? Let’s ask them to describe how a positive working environment feels. How about men encourage this and call out the bad behaviours? It is not enough for men to simply say that they support women, they must show us. Too many women have spoken up to be kicked out or put to one side. I’ve seen it.
Most modern men I know would welcome the change – they’d be more successful too. Evidence shows productivity rises when more women are working in your organisation at higher levels; this is not just a diversity issue. Sadly, though, very few women tell me they want a career in the civil service, very few regret leaving. How can public impact become a reality if one half of the customer is getting less than half of the consideration?
As an executive, I can’t imagine a world where I would willingly operate with only 50% the talent available to me. 50% of the talent means 50% of the brainpower, 50% of the ideas and 50% of the perspective – when an organisation’s growth and evolution in today’s rapidly changing environment requires 100%, and then some. It’s just common sense – and one day soon we’ll look back and be absolutely baffled that we worked any differently.
I feel this past year we all saw it with our own eyes. Movements are a force. You’d have had to been living under a rock if you didn’t hear the collective voices of the brave and the bold, the afraid and the ashamed break the sound barrier on gender equality and parity. But for all this to move beyond an exemplary moment we must now connect the dots between this and broader movements and struggles that continue to publicly confront and challenge oppressive systems and hierarchies that aren’t about to undo themselves.
Women make up half the world’s population and in Africa, in particular, women tend to lead on those areas which make the biggest difference in families such as healthcare and education. Women also invest 90% of whatever income they have back into the community, which is very different to men. Investing in women – their income generating capability and education – is by far the fastest and most direct way to improve lives in African communities.
My five-year-old daughter can’t believe there was a time when women couldn’t be doctors; the only doctors she knows are women. She thinks every presidential election is as likely to have a female candidate as a male. And she expects the world will treat her equally to her brothers in every way. Her and her peers’ expectations make me optimistic that they will demand the future they deserve.
In any type of organisation, if we only have one viewpoint that is making decisions, we are only making decisions for one type of person or a limited part of a problem. If we bring more minority voices into boardrooms and executive suites, women being one type of minority, we will have better products, services, and overall, better lives around the world.