Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

‘When the woman starts talking, the men switch off’ - Christine Lagarde on why gender parity is taking so long

Christine Lagarde at Davos 2017 Image: swiss-image.ch

Ceri Parker
Previously Commissioning Editor, Agenda, World Economic Forum
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Gender Inequality

This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting

Christine Lagarde shared her thoughts on the world’s glacial progress towards gender parity in a Davos session on disrupting the status quo of gender roles.

“We have been talking about it for as long as I can remember,” she said, noting that, according to World Economic Forum research, it would take 170 years for the economic gender gap to close, with the rate of progress stalling in the wake of the financial crisis.

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The head of the IMF, who was was formerly France’s first female finance minister, then gave some examples to shed light on why parity remains elusive.

“We have to identify our own biases,” she said. “Sometimes you have to identify that when a board member who happens to be a woman takes the floor, guess what, many of the male board members start to withdraw physically, they start to look at their papers, to look at the floor… and you need to disrupt that.”

Lagarde, who once walked out of a job interview when she was told her prospects would be limited as a woman, also said:

“When I was Finance Minister, very often the presidents of companies would come and report on their strategies, and when I asked them about their board composition, they would always say - ‘I would love to have a woman on the board, I just can’t find any, and the ones I know are fully booked.’ So I had a bit of paper in my bag with the names of 20 women on it.”

Progress is not easy or straightforward, though. She said that in order for the IMF to reach its gender quotas, in some areas they would have to hire only women for the next five years, which made her uncomfortable. Once they had reached the top, women should support other women: “It’s our responsibility to help others progress along the way.”

‘How many male CEOs get asked about juggling work and family?’

In the same session, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, the Oscar-winning documentary maker, took aim at the obsession with women and motherhood.

“Women, even if they’re very, very successful, they keep getting asked: how do you juggle family and work? How many male CEOs get asked, how do you juggle being a CEO and having a family? I refuse to answer the question. I am a film-maker. What is a female film-maker?”

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Isabel de Saint Malo de Alvarado, Panama’s foreign minister, shared an anecdote on how family roles can be deeply ingrained - even for high-flying women.

“I’ve always been a professional but I’ve always taken care of my family… My daughter needed to go to the doctor. I told her, the appointment is made, Daddy is taking you, and she asked, but will he know what to tell the doctor? And I said, but he’s sitting right next to you... Many times men just don’t take on some roles because we don’t let them.”

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Related topics:
Equity, Diversity and InclusionEconomic Growth
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