Reflections from the International Women's Day Forum
A belated happy International Women’s Day to all! As I reflect on an inspiring two days at the 2016 International Women’s Day forum last week, The Business of Inclusion: Global Prosperity through Women and Girls Empowerment, I wanted to share a few of the themes that came to the fore over the course of the conference.
There was a clear understanding amongst all in attendance that the coordinated participation of all sectors and institutions will be instrumental in achieving gender parity, a feat which is not only incumbent on us as global citizens, but also critical to the individual bottom lines and mutual prosperity of all. This is why we are so excited about initiatives like IMPACT 2030 or Common Impact’s upcoming Corporate Community of Practice (stay tuned!) that combine the might, resources, and talents of would-be competitors for social good and mutually-beneficial market enhancement.
Businesses are coming up with innovative ways to overcome unconscious bias and structural barriers to provide women with avenues to advancement. I was especially excited to hear that skills-based volunteering trumpeted as one of the top ways that companies like IBM and General Electric are enabling women to build social capital, gain critical skillsets, and better position themselves for promotion. Skills-based volunteering also presents a unique way to combat gender inequity with simultaneous upstream and downstream solutioning. Many at the conference spoke of the need to develop a continuum of initiatives – beginning with programs to build girls’ confidence and leadership in traditionally male-dominated arenas (like sports and STEM), and coming full circle with workplace initiatives to get women into leadership positions where they can serve as mentors for the next generation.
Data was a hot topic at the forum and there was a united outcry for better mechanisms to track and measure our collective progress on women’s progress (Sustainable Development Goals #5) and the other SDGs. This need was highlighted as a ripe opportunity for the private sector to provide real value, given their access to sophisticated technologies and big data.
There were a lot of discouraging statistics thrown around during the forum. Women work 2/3 of working hours but earn only 10% of the income. Only 3% of venture capital goes to women-led businesses. The wage gap persists, with American women making only 77 cents on the male dollar. At our current rate of progress, the World Economic Study projects that achieving gender parity will take 117 years. And yet, I left the conference feeling resoundingly optimistic about our ability to cut that 117-year projection down substantially.
It was clear to all in attendance that empowering women is not only an end unto itself, but also a driver for economic and social progress. Companies see this mandate not as a request, but as an opportunity and they are taking tremendous strides to capitalize on the under-tapped potential of their female employees and customers. There is a tremendous amount to feel optimistic about, but is incumbent on all of us – women and men – to ensure that we don’t let the momentum of International Women’s Day peter out.
Read more here about some ways you can take action to support women and girls in your workplace, your community, and worldwide.