In advance of International Women’s Day, Thomson Reuters and Women’s World Banking co-hosted a salon to discuss the current state of gender equality. The history of Salons dates back to the Enlightenment. Women traditionally hosted Salons as a place to discuss the most pressing issues of the day and hear from current change makers, thought leaders and the politically connected.
Our Salon brought together leaders from corporations, financial institutions, higher education and NGOs to discuss the persisting issues, common misconceptions and most importantly what we can collectively do together to help women progress. In short, access is everything.
Women Around the Globe
While we focused primarily on women in business, it’s critical to note that the problems women face globally are vastly different. I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the tremendous challenges (sometimes life-threatening) that women face around the world. For perspective, below are some unfortunate statistics that highlight the access problem.
- Only half of the world’s working-age women are in the labor force.
- 62 million girls are denied an education all over the world.
- Around the world, only 22 percent of all national parliamentarians are female.
- Women currently hold 24, or 4.8 percent of CEO positions at S&P 500 companies.
There is still so much further to go.
Last year, Thomson Reuters became a member of the UN Global Compact. We believe the organization’s mission fits with how we conduct business—doing work that matters. In joining the organization, we made a commitment to uphold the Sustainable Development Goals and SDG 5 focuses specifically on the case for gender equality. Women are often drivers of socio-economic change, champions of responsible investing and in the coming decades will have ownership over massive amounts of capital to be deployed and invested. Late last year, we released a report, Leaders of Sustainable Development, to further this conversation and demonstrate the role that women play in the current global marketplace and how their contributions continue to drive positive change.
The Collective Agreement
During the Salon, our experts discussed the current state of gender equality and why this conversation is still so important. We quickly landed on two divergent themes – the corporate business case for diversity and the role of corporations in increasing representation.
From a 360 view, currently 1.1 billion women are unbanked / financially excluded. This is a problem on multiple levels but especially because the case is clear that women are a multiplier of funds. For the last 35 years, the Women’s World Bank has worked to connect women with financial institutions to grow their businesses. This is especially beneficial as women are typically good clients who reinvest in their communities.
The investor community controls the most wealth and in order to make a significant impact to drive a sustainable future, women need access to capital. We are pleased to see progress in this area with more and more companies requesting ESG data to inform decisions and as a result insisting on gender equity in their investments. One challenge is that women have not traditionally been active investors, but with the oncoming massive wealth transfer that will transfer tremendous capital into the hands of women and millennials, this will change.
Voices for Progress
During the course of the night, we heard straight from leading voices on the subject. Here is a snapshot of what was said and asked as a conversation impetus.
“We need to break the invisibility of women.”
Mary Ellen Iskenderian, President and CEO, Women’s World Banking
“We need to enpower our girls and women – here and around the world – to actively participate and lead; The more voices the better”
Alyssa A. Grikscheit, Partner, Sidley Austin, LLP
“The solution combines 3 key constituents – board-ready women, ‘frozen middle’, and millenials.”
Melanie Childress Carucci, Global Business Director, Thomson Reuters
“What does it take to create the emotional connection to spur change?”
Rachel Field, Director, Leader & Diversity, Women’s World Banking
“Ignore the ‘middle’ at your peril.”
Kristen Tiner, Global Business Director, F&R, Thomson Reuters
“Change is implemented effectively when there is a buy-in from both ends of the spectrum. The short term and long term goals of gender equality need to consist of commitments on a personal and professional level – where the C-Suite can confidently reflect parity among all levels of leadership, and incoming talent can be encouraged by that set precedent.”
Grace Kim, Lead Client Specialist, SCS / F&R, Thomson Reuters
The most important driver of change to ensure gender equality is access: Access to education, access in the boardroom, access to the top levels of corporations, and access to capital.
This is naturally happening as the workplace adjusts to 21st century life and technology enables opportunity. But we, as a collective, have to demand that the agenda stops moving at a glacial pace and accelerates as we hit this tipping point. Investors, corporations, universities and NGOs all need to work together to push the conversation and implement the change necessary to give women access to opportunity to drive the economy forward. When women succeed, we all succeed and our organization will continue to champion this cause.