Here’s what I like about the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos: it puts the really big topics on the agenda. For me, one of the biggest issues is gender inequality. The numbers are startling: Women perform 66 percent of the world’s work, they produce 50 percent of the world’s food, but earn a mere 10 percent of its income and own just 1 percent of its property.
So it was great to be on the panel of a session on “Making Gains on Gender Goals.” Still, I was a bit disappointed. Not with the discussion, but the fact that there were empty seats in the room. I guess the empty seats are a reflection of who’s coming to Davos, and whether the people here get it.
There’s been plenty of talk about the lack of women at this year’s WEF; they make up just 15 percent of participants – less than last year. In a way, Davos and its participants are simply a reflection of the corporate world. But to achieve change, we need more oars in the water – here in Davos, and everywhere in business.
Let me be clear: We don’t need quotas. Women’s equality can’t be legislated. Women picked for positions of power under such rules will always be viewed with suspicion: did she get the job on merit or by decree? That’s not sustainable. Achieving gender goals can’t be about box ticking.
Instead, we have to set out the facts. Getting women into business produces results – for companies and for the global economy. That’s the attraction: It makes good business sense.
For a company like Tupperware, this might be obvious: The majority of our customers and sales force are women, and we need to have women among the top decision makers in our business to truly understand what women want. Companies that ignore this, miss out on the knowledge, the ideas and the insights of more than half the world’s population.
But as Tupperware’s own research shows, pushing for gender equality is about much more than that. Unlocking the economic potential of women triggers a virtuous cycle of investment in the community, and gives economies a much-needed kick-start. Provide a woman with microfinance, give her coaching and training and the right tools and here’s what happens: as she tastes success and her confidence grows, she will share her profit and become a beacon for others.
The numbers speak for themselves: Invest with a woman and you’ll get higher returns. The Shriver Report puts it this way: We “cannot have sustained economic prosperity and well-being until women’s new, central role is recognized and women’s economic health is used as a measure.”
I’ve often asked myself: why? Maybe it’s how we are wired, or how we are being brought up. But it’s clear to me that while most men think “me,” women are more likely to think “we.”
Start Change in the Boardroom
We can’t wait for this potential to mysteriously unlock itself. We have to move the needle ourselves, start in the boardroom, and change the tone at the top.
At Tupperware, about 40 percent of the board are now women. Change has to go deeper, of course. In our firm we have three group presidents, two of them women. We have five candidates for CEO succession, three of them women.
And it’s about changing attitudes. In Indonesia, for example, we sponsor a television show called “She Can, You Can.” Every program tells female success stories, providing fantastic role models, showing what women can achieve in any kind of business or profession.
The Indonesian show is not about Tupperware at all. But it tries to achieve the same thing that we do in our company: give women an opportunity and the training and provide them with a business model. When they succeed it creates an enormous positive momentum. Success gives women a huge boost in self-confidence and in earnings power. And for us it makes good business sense – not least because we access one of the biggest and least-used recruitment pools in the world.
Women in business often battle with stereotype, and sometimes they conform to them. There are plenty of women who believe that when they’re at the top, they have to be as tough as men, if not tougher.
That’s why I admire Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg so much. She shows that you can reconcile a business and a personal business life, that you can be both tough and compassionate.
So here’s my message to fellow CEOs: Set the tone at the top. Don’t do it to tick a box, but because you see the great opportunity.
And here’s my message to women: Stand up. Feel empowered. Wake up the sleeping giant within you.
Rick Goings is Chairman and CEO, Tupperware Brands.