21st century strategy: More women is good for business

As part of the United Nations Global Compact’s Uniting Business LIVE event to mark the opening of the 75th session of the UN General Assembly, Women Political Leaders (WPL) and Arizona State University (ASU) co-hosted the session “21st Century Strategy: More women is good for business.” This panel featured high-level women leaders, from both business and politics, engaging in a critical discussion on how to advance equality between women and men in the workplace. The conversation underscored that achieving equality, and improving gender diversity, will not only benefit women, but will boost business outcomes as well. 

To open the discussion, Silvana Koch-Mehrin, Founder and President of Women Political Leaders (WPL), posed an important: “What are we waiting for?” If the increased inclusion of women at all levels of business provides tangible benefits for equality and the economy, then why is progress so slow?

The answer to this question lies in business strategy, and both international organizations and governments have a clear role to play. Research clearly demonstrates that national GDPs notice measurable improvements when more women participate in the economy and workforce. As Rania Al-Mashat, Minister of International Cooperation and Minister of Tourism (2018-2020) Egypt, suggested, it is therefore essential to reframe the conversation: to “shift it from a gender issue to an economic issue.”

Additionally, companies should speak up about equality between women and men in the workplace as the companies themselves benefit from having a more equitable and diverse workforce. For Ann Cairns, Executive Vice-Chair & President of Mastercard, it is crucial to enable a culture of inclusion. This includes providing maternal and paternal leave, encouraging risk-taking, and “having gender-neutral job specifications and blind interviews.” 

Dr. Juliane Hilf, Partner at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, agrees that a culture of inclusion within the workplace is imperative. She also underlined the fact that external pressure is necessary to incite greater progress as companies comply with clients’ demands. 

While “on the surface” policies are important, as Ann Cairns and Juliane Hilf explained, society must also tackle “below the surface” policies according to Amy Weaver, President, Legal and Corporate Affairs, Salesforce. Therefore, to encourage diversity, workplaces and businesses must ask the question “What are the different ways of succeeding and being a leader?” Women’s voices then need to be amplified in high-level positions as does the acknowledgement of their unique form(s) of leadership. Thus, Amy Weaver insists the world of business “look(s) at the results rather than how you get to that result.”

Figuring out how to include more women in the business sector may not seem straightforward to some, but it is vital. As the COVID-19 crisis continues to disproportionately negatively impact women, business strategies must acknowledge what is at stake, both for women and for the future of the global economy. 

Maris Lauri, Member of the Parliament & Deputy Chair of the Finance Committee, WPL Ambassador, Minister of Finance (2014–2015), Minister of Education and Research (2016) Estonia, outlined an important strategy for equality: there could be a positive shift within the workplace if the current power of technology and remote working is harnessed to ensure equal access and opportunity. Encouraging women, and girls, to work with technology is an impactful strategy to increase equality, according to Mauris Lauri. 

To wrap up the discussion, Silvana Koch-Mehrin and Amy Weaver reminded the audience that women are often, as opposed to their male counterparts, questioned on proven abilities and skills. To create a better, more equal (and profitable) future, it is critical to eradicate biases and negative perceptions of women as leaders.

Watch the full session here: https://buff.ly/3mXFdwK