Laura Liswood, Secretary General of the Council of Women World Leaders, examines the case for women’s empowerment in this World Economic Forum video. Liswood says it’s important that people appreciate the business case for women, from both a corporate and social perspective, and understand the returns that can come from empowering them.

Watch the video above for the full story or read selected quotes below.

On the case for change

Clearly, when we are talking about women’s empowerment and leadership we are talking about change – societal change, structural change, institutional change and policy change. So the question is, how do we achieve it? One of the ways I have been thinking about is the growing interest in implementing quotas, both in government and businesses. Some people think it’s an imperfect mechanism, and it probably is, but it is also a tool that can create the conditions for change. Even if companies and governments simply act as if there were quotas, it would help to shape the mind and focus attention on action.

What would it take to get 40% of women in parliament, for example? Or what might be required to get to 30% women on a corporate board? This would also mean acting as if women’s voices were counted. At this point, I think women’s voices are too often diminished; we need to ensure that they are treated on a par with men’s.

Even if an individual or an organization has data that supports the case for change, if it’s not painful enough to use it, if it is difficult to see how they will gain very much, or they lack a vision of where they want to go, then they can simply disregard the information. The research is solid. We know that. But we don’t actually take that knowledge and allow it to change our development programmes. So it seems we can know things, and yet act as if we don’t know them.

 On a powerful return

We know from research done by the World Bank that if you give a dollar in aid or support to a man in a developing country there is a good possibility that it will be spent on consumable goods. However, if you give a dollar to a woman in a developing nation, that dollar is more likely to go to healthcare, to the family, or to the education of children.

We know that when you have more diversity you are more likely to have innovation and creativity. Gender diversity is fundamental to this and the research is quite clear. If you add a member of a heterogeneous group to a homogenous group, the potential for incremental creativity and innovation is much greater. In today’s society, where cycles of change are quicker than they have been in the past, we need innovation and creativity to improve productivity.

There is a growing body of evidence that when you have more women on a board or in a corporation, things do change and you might see an increase in your return on equity, your return on investment or your productivity. Of course, the more women we get in these organizations, the more information we will have on their impact. 

On recommendations

My three top-line recommendations for decision-makers would be; know the business case for women, both from a corporate and societal perspective; even in the absence of mandated quotas, act as if they exist; understand that there are things we already know but are not acting on, that could really help shape change

Those are the efficiency arguments, but you’ve also got the equity argument.

We can’t educate girls, put them into the workforce and then not let them produce what their education should allow them to. It’s simply unfair. For me, it’s what I call the power of the mirror. You learn who you can be by who you can see has power in society.

Read Laura Liswood’s article on how men and women see gender equality differently.

Author: Laura Liswood is Secretary General of the Council of Women World Leaders.

Image: A pedestrian is reflected in a puddle as she walks through an alley in Boston, Massachusetts July 31, 2013. REUTERS/Brian Snyder