Celebrating International Women’s Day, Leaders Stress Need for Greater Gender Equality

Googlers the world over were greeted today by a new "Google Doodle" in honor of International Women's Day. With the event having taken place every March 8th for over a century, several corporate and global leaders marked the occasion to highlight the need for more gender balance in the workplace.

At a gathering of business, civil and political leaders in New York, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Executive Director of UN Women Michelle Bachelet emphasized the benefits companies can derive from providing equal opportunities for women and men.

"We need to support women's leadership and equal opportunity because this is good for women, and it is good for democracy and a healthy and productive society," said Bachelet, who became the first female President of Chile in 2006.

Around the world, business leadership took the opportunity to emphasize that companies' talent pools increase substantially when women are given greater opportunities.

"Women represent half of the world population and half of the employee population of our company," said Annelise Goldstein of Novo Nordisk, a Danish-based healthcare company that launched a new career network today to advance and develop women within the company.

"If we do not have women represented at all levels of the organization then we are missing out on a huge talent capacity," added Goldstein.

The gathering in New York was part of the 5th Annual Women's Empowerment Principles (WEPs) Event, Inclusion: Strategy for Change. This year's event launched the WEPs Leadership Awards to salute CEOs for exceptional championship of gender equality in the workplace.

But today's International Women's Day was not all about congratulations and awards. A new study released this week found that numbers of women participating in science, technology and innovation are alarmingly low in the world's leading economies. In many, including the United States, the number of women in these fields is actually on the decline.

The study, which looked at gender parity in Brazil, South Africa, India, South Korea, Indonesia, the US and the EU, found that women hold less than a third of available administrative and managerial positions.

"These economies are operating under the existing paradigm that if we give girls and women greater access to education they will eventually gain parity with men in these fields," said Sophia Huyer, the lead researcher and founding executive director of Women in Global Science & Technology, an non-profit that helps women, especially those living in developing countries, participate in science and technology.

"The report indicates that access to education is not a solution in and of itself," she continued. "It's only one part of what should be a multi-dimensional policymaking approach. There is no simple solution."

Of all the countries included in the study, Brazil had the highest number of women IT workers, the highest percentage of female-run businesses with more than one employee, and comparatively high levels of management participation at 45 percent.

But even in Brazil, the researchers found that gender equality was still more vision than reality.

"However impressive the results in the last 10 years are, women in Brazil are nevertheless still not well represented at the decision making levels of the science and technology system," said Alice Abreu, a researcher from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro who was involved in the study.

"They remain a minority in engineering, physics and computer sciences, and have low participation in the knowledge society workforce," she continued. "Even more creative actions will have to be developed to focus on these next steps, so that Brazil can fully profit from the investment it is making."

Image credit: Victor1558, Flickr