Drew Gilpin Faust is Harvard’s first female President. Yet as a girl growing up, her mother would frequently tell her: “It’s a man’s world sweetie, and when you recognise that you’ll be happy.”

In this World Economic Forum video, historian Faust says that closing the gender gap is not just about fairness and human rights, but also about building better societies.

Click on the clip at the top of the page for the full interview or read the quotes below.

On a changing world

When I became President of Harvard, numbers of people asked me, was this a fulfilment of a childhood dream? And my answer to that has always been, I would have had to be crazy to aspire to be president of Harvard when I was a child or a teenager, because there were no women faculty at Harvard at that time. And so that’s another testimony to how much things have changed.

The case for closing the gender gap is a case of building better societies for everyone. Societies in which women are fully employed are societies that are far more successful. There have been economic analyses that show, for example in the European zone, that there would be a significant increase – as much as 10% increase in GDP – if women and men’s employment was at similar levels. We also see evidence that companies that have women on their boards are likely to perform better. It’s not just good practice, or being fair and just to include women, it also makes for better outcomes for everyone.

On women’s leadership

I’m often asked if there is a particular characteristic of women’s leadership, and I always want to make clear that women and men vary tremendously. But in American society at least, many women are raised in a certain way that encourages them to be listeners, to be conciliators, to really interrogate risk, to understand communal values beyond those of individual purposes, and that can be a useful set of attributes for a leader.

Education so empowers women in every part of the world. We can see that societies in which women are educated are societies that have strong economic growth trajectories. And I think we need to educate people about issues concerning the gender gap. Educate people to themselves be able to work to close that gap, and educate people to understand how important it is to do so.

On closing the gender gap

When I think about misperceptions related to the gender gap. I would underscore a lack of understanding in the developed world of how much there is still to do. If we think about all that has been accomplished: 20% women in the Senate, when there was no woman Senator when I was born. But it’s still just 20%. We have to keep reminding people … that’s not enough.

Women are actually more than 50% of the population, we still have these big gaps. We need to understand how much there still is to do. And then when we think about the world as a whole, we need to understand how different circumstances are in terms of health outcomes, personal safety, access to education for women in the developing world.

Author: Drew Gilpin Faust is President of Harvard University.

Image: Construction takes place on The Shard building (at rear) as visitors pose on the balcony at One New Change shopping mall in London November 16, 2010. REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett