Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

6 leaders on how women can thrive despite the gender gap

Closing the gender gap can increase GDP by an average of 35%.

Closing the gender gap can increase GDP by an average of 35%. Image: Unsplash/Rob Walsh

Julie Masiga
Communications Lead, Centre for Health and Healthcare, World Economic Forum
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Gender Inequality

  • The World Economic Forum’s 2022 Global Gender Gap Report has found that progress toward closing the gender gap has stalled in most countries.
  • Gender equality remains unfinished business in every country of the world.
  • But closing the gender gap can increase GDP by an average of 35%, so the incentive to do so should be stronger than ever.

Gender equality remains unfinished business in every country of the world. Despite the undeniable progress that’s been made over decades of activism, women are yet to fully embody their agency, be it on the homefront, in the community, or at the workplace.

The benefits of having women in the workplace are well documented. From increasing productivity and enhancing collaboration to inspiring organizational dedication and decreasing employee burnout, women continue to bring some of the most valuable contributions to their places of work. On top of that, closing the gender gap can increase GDP by an average of 35%.

And yet, the World Economic Forum’s 2022 Global Gender Gap Report finds that progress towards closing the gender gap has stalled in most countries. There's still much work to be done when it comes to including women in more decision-making roles.

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At the same time, there are emerging threats to women’s reproductive health rights -- specifically the right to decide when to have children -- in some of the world’s largest economies. Research shows that restrictions on abortion lead to decreased earnings and labour participation, and higher employee attrition.

Researchers have also found that the women who aren’t able to have an abortion experience “large and persistent negative effects” on their financial health including rising debt, negative credit events, such as bankruptcies and evictions, and an inability to pay for basic expenses like food and housing. These levels of distress can persist for years.

Despite these stark realities, women continue to push the needle for change. Here’s what six women leaders told us about leading the charge and bridging the gender gap.

‘You can do hard things’

Angela Oduor, Executive Director, Ushahidi

Change starts with a recognition of the power that you have as a woman. Apathy, while it can be understood in many cases, isn't something that we should embrace. Right now, we have several platforms for self-expression. There are spaces for us to elevate our voices and to point out and call out the things that are not working. You might feel like one single voice is unnecessary. But imagine if just ten more people decided to speak out. Imagine how powerful and inspirational that could be.

But even on your own, recognize that you are an individual who can do hard things. There is no mountain that is insurmountable. Look out for opportunities. Knock on doors. If those doors are locked, break them open. Break those doors open. And remember to always think about the ones who are coming behind you. Try and open the door for somebody else. Hold somebody’s hand. Mentor them. Give back to your community.

‘Take people with you’

Andrea Fuder, Chief Purchasing Officer, Volvo Group

Whatever you want to achieve, you must take people with you. As a leader, you can’t just command things to happen. Things don’t happen like that. Take time to explain to people why you need them to do things, because when they understand why, then they will be much more engaged, and more willing to walk with you on the journey. Understand that everything starts and ends with people. They are by far your biggest asset as a leader. So, going forward we have to work together. We have to create partnerships. We have to think in ecosystems. Because no one in the world can fix problems by themselves.

‘Let communities set the table’

Kahea Pacheco, Co-Executive Director of Women's Earth Alliance

My advice to young women, especially women of colour, is don't ever think that you don't belong in any space. Your voice is important. Even if you are the only one there talking about the things that you are passionate about, the things that make a difference. It is important. And you belong there. It's also important to recognize that there is no one-size-fits-all solution because we come from different communities with different needs, from different regions and ecosystems.

So, solutions are going to have to be different. As leaders, we must partner with people in local communities, not just bring them to the table, but let them set the table. Make sure that they are the first and primary voice at the table.

For everybody who has a passion, for anybody who has a fire inside them, that's telling them that something can be done differently, my advice would be to follow that passion. Figure out who in your community is doing some organizing. Figure out which indigenous communities are in your territory, or that you're in their territory, and get involved. Get involved, and be on the right side of history and justice.

‘Women are resilient’

Nela Richardson, Chief Economist at ADP, and co-head at the ADP Research Institute

In the US, women workers took the hardest hit during the height of the pandemic. So many low-income women lost their jobs. But this is not just a US-specific issue. We know that wage gaps are profound and widespread around the world. Women had to step in when social infrastructure failed and really take on the responsibility of the family.

And for a lot of women, their careers were negatively impacted. The key to the workplace of tomorrow is providing a social safety support network for women so that they are not so vulnerable to the next pandemic or the next crisis. So that they can be as resilient as we know women can be.

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‘Create a sisterhood’

Ebru Ozdemir, Chairwoman of Limak Holdings

As the world emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic, men are returning to the workplace more than women. This means that the gender gap is increasing. So, we must refocus our energies on supporting women to return to work. To lessen the gender gap, we have to create a sisterhood. Women should support women in business. That’s very important.

Women, and especially young women, shouldn't be ashamed of asking for help. Always ask. If you ask for help, you'll get it. Also, remember that every day is a new day that can come with good or bad news, but being resilient and waking up every day for the next day is very important. So don't give up and always be curious.

We have to give each other confidence. We have to create teams. And we must keep working and keep being resilient.

‘Do it your way'

Vicki Hollub, President & CEO, Occidental Petroleum

Don't lose your unique skillset. Don't think you have to adapt. Don't think you have to do things the way men do it. Just because it's been mostly men that have been CEOs doesn’t mean that you must do it their way. Do it your way. You might have to leave some things behind but always be who you are no matter what the situation. Also, part of being a woman is helping other women. Take other women with you. If you facilitate their development and their growth, then you're going to have a better team. Focus on people, be passionate about what you do, and persevere until you achieve your goals.

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