Closing the global gender gap will take another eight decades at this rate. We can’t afford to wait that long.
This is not an article about gender parity. It’s about running a good business and making a better world.
I was inspired to write this piece during the recent annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, when my wife and I were rushing to a session on gender parity. We ran into a huge queue outside, but delight mixed with worry (great buzz, but would we get in?) quickly turned to disappointment. The long queue was for a totally oversubscribed session next door, on robotics. The session on gender parity? Plenty of empty seats, with an audience (as well as the panel) populated by the usual suspects, including ourselves.
You could call it “gender fatigue,” a term probably first coined by leadership scholar Elisabeth Kelan. It describes the assumption that gender no longer matters in the workplace, because the issue supposedly was solved a long time ago.
Wrong. Very wrong.
Just look at the hard facts. At the current rate, it will take us 81 years — no, that is not a typo —to close the global gender gap. That’s the baseline, established by the Forum’s report on The Global Gender Gap, which I am proud to say that, in a small way, I helped to create.
We — as a business, as a society, all around the world — can’t afford to wait that long. Business leaders have to understand that gender parity is not just a question of what’s good and what’s fair, important as that may be.
Gender parity is a good business decision.
I’m not saying this on a hunch. Have you ever seen the raw economic power that is unleashed when you give women the right tools to become an entrepreneur? I witness it every day, through our Tupperware Brands business.
Failure to act would be an economic disaster. That’s why we have to redefine the debate about the role of women in business; that’s the lesson we can take away from our session in Davos and the broader gender fatigue.
Investing in women simply delivers a better return on investment, because women are more likely than men to put gains to better use. Research proves this. They put their efforts into their family’s education, buying tools or setting up their own business. Frankly, they are less selfish. In contrast, all too many men spend their money on fun and entertainment. If you don’t believe me, read the great book “Half the Sky,” written a few years ago by my friends Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDun.
If we are worried about economic growth, or lifting the world out of poverty, we’ve got a solution right there. Let’s bring women into the workforce or help them become business leaders. If we do that, we instantly create a virtuous circle of economic recovery.
So here’s our task: we have to identify the disruptors and accelerators — in other words, the tools and templates that will bring women into business.
And that’s where the Forum will play an important role. Critics, of course, will point to the fact that — yet again — only 17 percent of this year’s Davos participants were women. That’s not the Forum’s fault, though, merely a reflection of the slim pipeline of female talent that has been given a chance to rise through the ranks of the companies and organizations that attend the event.
But consider this: The Forum is one of those rare places that brings together business leaders, politicians and other critical thinkers from every corner of the world. Together we can identify not just the baseline for how bad (or good) we are doing on gender parity; more importantly, Davos gives us an opportunity to compare notes and see which accelerators work where — whether it’s in China, Malaysia, Germany, Brazil or the United States.
Here are a few of the disruptors that I’ve spotted:
- Let’s both fame and shame the organisations and countries that do well and poorly on gender parity. I believe the sunlight of facts is a great disinfectant.
- Don’t talk, just do it. Talking about gender parity must not be a corporate social responsibility figleaf. Let’s get women on the company board; let’s promote them to leadership positions.
- We need a buffet of accelerators for gender parity, not a one-size-fits-all solution, because every business, every country, every culture and every woman is different.
It’s our task to develop the right blueprints that help women into business, whether it’s access to capital (for example, through microfinance), training and education, entrepreneurial business models, mentorship and corporate sponsorship, or one of many other opportunities.
Our world has a huge amount of unused capital at its disposal: the ingenuity and business power of women. Achieving gender parity is not just about doing the right thing. It’s about doing the smart thing.
It’s about making good business decisions.
(Top image: Courtesy of John Briggs, Kiva)
Rick Goings is Chairman and CEO of Tupperware Brands.