International Women's Day: 5 leaders on why we must focus on gender parity in times of crisis
- 8 March is International Women’s Day – devoted to celebrating the achievements of women and seeking gender equity and equality .
- The campaign theme this year is #EmbraceEquity – while the United Nations' theme is 'DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality'.
- Crisis-thinking cannot diminish, displace, or delay efforts in achieving gender parity.
Women have and continue to lead the path to change. In the past five years, women have increased their stake in senior leadership globally to 31%, diversifying the face and focus of decision-making.
As stated by Arancha Gonzalez Laya, Dean, of the Paris School of International Affairs, during the 2023 Annual Meeting at Davos, increased diversity in leadership “adds to the solidity and quality of the results and frankly, we need a bit of quality and solidity of results”. Better outcomes are sorely needed especially now. The collective failure to achieve gender parity in our time means that realising parity will now take 132 years.
In the midst of the current “polycrisis” moment, leaders must respond to competing, urgent priorities, and the need to turn the tables has never been more important. There is a unique opportunity to mitigate the effects of short-term shocks, build resilience for the long-term, and redress deep-seated inequities by advancing gender equality.
Faced with this scenario, we asked leading voices in our community to share, in their own words, why crisis-thinking cannot diminish, displace, or delay efforts in achieving gender parity.
'Inclusion is not just a buzzword, but a fundamental value'
Sarah Kate Ellis, President and CEO, GLAAD
Companies that will come out of this time of political and economic stress stronger are the ones that will use this moment to build more equitable workplaces and environments that understand and address gender parity. The future workforce will only engage with companies where inclusion is not just a buzzword, but a fundamental value. The number of future employees who stand by this is only growing.
This year’s Edelman Trust Barometer showed that 63% of global consumers buy or advocate for brands based on their personal beliefs and values. Nearly 70% of potential employees say having societal impact is a strong expectation or deal breaker when considering a job. Gender parity is not merely the ethical way to advance, but it’s an operational necessity today. As the global war for talent accelerates, companies that prioritize equitable workplaces will win out. Those that do not enact plans for gender parity will see potential employees and consumers looking to competitors.
The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2022 found that geopolitical conflict and climate change both impact women disproportionately. This reinforces the need for global businesses to address gender parity alongside other non-financial reporting issues. Some companies can be hesitant to engage over fears of being imperfect, but silence is not an option. Companies can and should engage with experts, coalitions of other companies, and civil society organizations to operationalize gender parity programmes. Do not go it alone.
'A global, innovative, and productive Ecuador cannot crystallize without the vision of women'
Julio José Prado, Minister of Production, Foreign Trade, Investment and Fisheries, Ecuador
The gender parity approach cannot and should not be subject to reprioritization by economic crises. In Ecuador, 50.4% of the population is made up of women, so gender equality is a transversal axis of management, especially since our current competitiveness strategy, "Ecuador Competes", seeks to level economic opportunities, and integrate more women into the economy and reduce the barriers that impede their development.
We are convinced that a global, innovative, and productive Ecuador cannot crystallize without the vision of women, without gender inclusion. In this sense, our country has assumed a wide variety of international human rights obligations, which are applicable to the field of gender equality and the conditions and rights of women.
One of the international agreements adopted as public policy is the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals. Goal 5 requires that we "achieve gender equality and empower all women". We also align ourselves with inclusive trade policies that promote the participation of women in production chains, international markets, financing, and investments.
On the other hand, if we review the incidence of crises and the effects of the pandemic for example, we see that it affected women to a greater extent, given that they are overrepresented in poor households, work in informal activities and have less access to telework and technology. In this sense, Ecuador is focusing its efforts to improve the quality of life of women, ensuring their full inclusion in the economy, and in access to and use of digital technologies.
'Gender parity needs to be centre-stage in priority setting in times of polycrisis'
Fatoumata Ba, Founder and Executive Chair, Janngo Capital, France
Women are disproportionately affected by climate change. Yet, less than 3% of environmental funding comes with a gender-lens. The situation seems all the more paradoxical when you consider that there is a correlation between more women in parliament and less carbon emissions. This is because women create more climate-related policies. Similarly, when there are more women in management positions, CO2 emissions decrease.
Yet, according to the International Finance Corporation (IFC), only 11% of private equity and venture capital (VC) allocators and 7% of recipient are women. This disadvantages women entrepreneurs in Africa, a continent which has the highest women entrepreneurship activity rate globally at more than 26%. Beyond the moral case to achieve gender equality, there is a compelling business case: according to McKinsey, achieving gender equality could add 10% to Africa’s GDP by 2025; that is more than 10x the GDP of my country, Senegal.
What's the World Economic Forum doing about the gender gap?
The World Economic Forum has been measuring gender gaps since 2006 in the annual Global Gender Gap Report.
The Global Gender Gap Report tracks progress towards closing gender gaps on a national level. To turn these insights into concrete action and national progress, we have developed the Gender Parity Accelerator model for public private collaboration.
These accelerators have been convened in twelve countries across three regions. Accelerators are established in Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Mexico and Panama in partnership with the Inter-American Development Bank in Latin America and the Caribbean, Egypt and Jordan in the Middle East and North Africa, and Japan and Kazakhstan in Asia.
All Country Accelerators, along with Knowledge Partner countries demonstrating global leadership in closing gender gaps, are part of a wider ecosystem, the Global Learning Network, that facilitates exchange of insights and experiences through the Forum’s platform.
In these countries CEOs and ministers are working together in a three-year time frame on policies that help to further close the economic gender gaps in their countries. This includes extended parental leave, subsidized childcare and making recruitment, retention and promotion practices more gender inclusive.
If you are a business in one of the Gender Parity Accelerator countries you can join the local membership base.
If you are a business or government in a country where we currently do not have a Gender Parity Accelerator you can reach out to us to explore opportunities for setting one up.
With compounding challenges such as gender equality, job creation, food security, quality education, better healthcare and climate change, now more than ever we need integrated solutions to make sure we achieve shared equity and prosperity while ensuring no one is left behind. Gender parity needs to be centre-stage in priority setting in times of polycrisis and not the other way around. The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2022 says it will now take another 132 years to close the global gender gap.
Now is the time for less pledges and more action, for less crisis-thinking in silos and more intersectional interventions, for equal environment and social factors, and for less mentoring and more funding for women entrepreneurs. Talent is equally distributed between men and women, but opportunities aren’t, especially in terms of access to capital.
That is why, Janngo Capital is proud to be a female-founded, owned and led venture capital fund with a commitment to invest 50% of our proceeds in start-ups that are either founded or co-founded by women, and that are beneficial to women in general. In fact, 56% of our current portfolio is female-founded and led, which makes us Africa’s largest gender-equal tech VC fund. Every day, we are inspired by their hard work as they revolutionize green mobility and reduce carbon emissions in Senegal and enable hundreds of thousands of small and medium enterprises in Nigeria to access to financial services.
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'Women’s empowerment leads to greater economic output, stronger families, and more productive societies overall'
Angela F. Williams, President and CEO, United Way Worldwide
Women get things done. This International Women’s Day, I’m proud to reflect on the enormous strides women have made around the globe and celebrate our collective power to build a better, more equitable world. There are more women today leading Fortune 500 companies, earning college degrees, starting businesses, and serving in the military than ever before. When women lead, the world gets stronger.
Although we are living in challenging times -- from the global rise of authoritarianism to increasingly frequent climate emergencies and rising division and distrust -- I am reminded that it is in times of crises when women rise to the challenge. That’s why we need more women in positions of leadership and influence, and it’s why we must refuse to put equity on the backburner. Not now, not ever.
Women’s empowerment leads to greater economic output, stronger families, and more productive societies overall. That’s one of the reasons why, as the first Black woman to lead United Way Worldwide, I’m proud to support women in their communities around the world. In Ghana, for example, United Way is partnering with communities to help women increase financial literacy, expand economic mobility, and develop and sell their own products. The money they earn doesn’t just grant them economic independence, it helps them build a stronger foundation for their families and communities.
Women are the key to solving so many of the global challenges we face. To ignore women’s voices and power in the face of crisis is to miss out on the ingenuity and lived experience critical to solving them. This International Women’s Day, I challenge leaders around the world to see times of crisis as an opportunity to take the long view, centre gender equity, and ensure women have a seat at every table. If we do, we will build equitable, resilient communities, and a stronger future for us all.
'True inclusion and belonging will drive and regenerate a future that works for everyone'
Alex Liu, Managing Partner and Chairman, Kearney
“Never let a good crisis go to waste”. Churchill’s famous quote underlines the importance of urgency and focus in areas that matter. This is all the more true in our current era of ‘permacrises’ or ‘polycrises’. As we have together endured the last few years of relentless disruption, it rightly seems like everything, everywhere, all at once. As a result, gender parity has slipped down the list of priorities and women’s progress set back by a whole generation.
Yet the way to deal with future crises better — or even prevent them altogether — lies in unleashing people power. Crises need solution-makers, solutions need people power and purpose. Throughout history, human ingenuity steps up in finding solutions to complex problems, yet vast reservoirs of female potential remain untapped worldwide.
Women represent half the population and half of the solution-makers. Gender parity – or diversity as a whole - is not a question of “either/or” between one group or another: rather, it’s a positive “yes/and” imperative. True inclusion and belonging will drive and regenerate a future that works for everyone, built by everyone. Firefighting, yes. But more importantly, we must further commit to long-term outcomes. Crisis sharpens our focus and collective wits, so we can together build this future of full potential. If we respond positively, with urgency, we won’t let this crisis or future ones go to waste.
Towards equal opportunity
While progress is never assured, as evidenced by the regressions experienced in the past three years, there are countless stakeholders to make economies and societies fairer and more inclusive, and to reduce the barriers that keep women and girls from leading equal-opportunity lives. Their efforts need to be recognised, scaled up, and supported towards achieving long-term change.