Women in Leadership – The World Depends on It
Women in Leadership – The World Depends on It
BØRSEN Leadership Conference, Roskilde Denmark | June 14, 2012
Thank you for inviting me to speak at this conference today. Highlighting the critically important role women must play in their own societies and communities if we want to have a stable, secure and prosperous world has been one of my life passions.
It is an honor to represent President Barack Obama and the United States as Ambassador to Denmark – and to be able to continue to focus some effort on the role of women. I am two generations removed from being a Dane. My grandfather – morfar – Jens Jensen immigrated to the United States in 1910 from a small village west of Horsens in Jutland. I grew up in the 1950s and 1960s in South Dakota, part of the heartland of Scandinavian America.
I earned my university degree in 1971, and then worked in politics and government, on “Capitol Hill” for a member of the U.S. Senate, as a surrogate candidate when my husband ran for and won elected office to the House of Representatives, and then as Executive Director of two NGOs. Eventually I pursued my dream of becoming a lawyer, earned my law degree from Georgetown University in 1989 and had a successful 20+ year practice in civil and criminal litigation before being nominated by President Obama and confirmed by the U.S. Senate as Ambassador to Denmark in July 2009.
At every point in my careers, I was one of a few women in such a position – and had few, but important, role models. In each position, I was valued by my employers and bosses – almost all men -- because I was smart, dedicated and responsible. I believe I often provided them with a different perspective. I was fortunate that men helped make way for me and that the women who went before me were eager to mentor and give advice.
Women’s talents, industry and wisdom are humankind’s greatest untapped resource. My experience reinforces my long-held belief that women matter – and women are important contributors in the public and private sector, and that corporations, nations and the world are better served when women are able to attain positions of leadership.
Let’s start with the world and nation states. The best predictor of a nation’s stability is how it treats its own women. Valerie M. Hudson, a professor who holds the George H.W. Bush Chair at the Bush School of Government at Texas A&M University has a provocative new book based upon the largest database on the status of women in the world today. Her conclusions are striking. The best predictor of a nation’s peacefulness is not its level of democracy, wealth or ethno-religious identity – the best predictor of a nation’s peacefulness is how well its women are treated. In fact, those democracies with a high level of violence against women are as unstable and insecure as nations that are not democratic.
Some forms of gender-based violence seem to be so established that they are ingrained in certain cultures. In certain countries this is true to such an extent that it results in gender-based infanticide. Dudley Posten, a demographer at Texas A&M University calculates that China will face a deficit of 50 million young women by the end of the decade! Already we read that men in China are going to Thailand and other Asian countries to find brides. This factor alone likely will adversely affect China’s stability, security, prosperity – its long term growth and its hope to rise as a world power
The World Bank for decades has conducted studies that show a correlation between countries where women are integrated into business and the economy with prosperity and stability. Those states we see as poorly developed and unstable, also are countries where women are not full participants in their societies
Goldman Sachs in its Global Economic Paper 164, focused on the importance of education for women and girls. The more education a woman has, the more likely she is to work. The more education a woman has, the fewer children she has. The more education a woman has, the less likely she is to die in child birth. Lower rate of female education is a significant contributing factor to slower economic growth for those countries that lag behind
Other gender-based factors that affect a society’s economic growth include women’s health, the legal and judicial disadvantages women face in many countries, including child and forced marriages, no or almost no recognized right to divorce, and laws under which inheritance flows to males only.
Comments supporting Millennium Development Goal #3 capture the importance of women’s role in a nation’s economy:
Putting resources into poor women’s hands while promoting gender equality in the household and in society results in large development payoffs.
Expanding women’s opportunities in public works, agriculture, finance, and other sectors accelerates economic growth, helping to mitigate the effects of current and future financial crises.
(World Bank – MDG 3)
Denmark and the United States see eye-to-eye on the important role for women in creating secure societies.
In October 2010, I co-hosted with the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs a conference for the Nordic-Baltic Region on the Role of Women in Global Security. I remember in planning this conference that every time I mentioned “role of women,” I could see men’s eyes glaze over – or they left the conversation.
I realized that we have to help men understand that involving women in economic affairs, government and peace keeping roles is just as important to men as it is to women. I made clear that this was a conference of men and women – who understand that increasing the participation of women in communities in or emerging from conflict is important to all of us, men and women, if we want a prosperous, stable and secure future.
We focused on three countries: Afghanistan, Liberia and Uganda – and brought together those experience on-the-ground either because they lived with it or worked with it, along with ministers, government and NGO leaders – including men and women in military and civilian service, in corporations, academia and NGOs.
Conference participants broke into workshops to identify barriers to – and best practices for increasing the participation of women in peacemaking, peace keeping, security, economic development and as lawyers and judges in justice and rule of law.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasumssen, U.S. Secretary of the Navy, joined defense and foreign affairs ministers from Denmark, the U.S., Sweden, Norway, Lithuania, Uganda, Liberia, Afghanistan as well as U.N. and EU leaders. It was only one step but it was an important one – especially for many of the male participants.
Among the barriers identified were cultural resistance and deeply entrenched barriers to inclusion of women and lack of political will to change these barriers. Among the recommendations is that gender mainstreaming become part of a whole of government approach to justice and security sector reform; that sexual violence during conflict be recognized as an international criminal activity; and that efforts be made to establish a critical mass of women in parliaments and at peace talks.
What about the role of women in our own countries? In the public sector, having obtained the right to vote nearly a century ago, women are respected as qualified and important leaders.
Approximately 35% of the members of the European Parliament are women. Denmark is a bit higher with almost 40% of the Folketing being female. The world wide average is approximately 20%, with ranges from 50% in Rwanda and Andorra to 0% in countries like Saudi Arabia. The United States is slightly below average with about 17% of the members being women in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. Our percentage of female members of our two legislative bodies is down slightly from its peak.
During the 2012 elections, we have the possibility of increasing the percentage slightly as there are more women candidates this year than there were in 2010, although some of them still face primary elections before we will know whether or not they are on the ballot in November 2012.
In the United States, one-third – or three out of the nine justices on the U.S. Supreme Court are women. President Obama has appointed two of the three; the other was appointed by President Clinton. Half of the members of the Obama Cabinet are women.
Today, for the first time in my life time, we have reached a critical mass of world women who lead global agendas. Women like Helle Thorning-Schmidt and Angela Merkel are heads of government in over 20 countries. Women such as Hillary Clinton and Lady Catherine Ashton are leaders in foreign relations. Christine Laguarde heads the International Monetary Fund. We have reached a point where no one even talks about these leaders being women, and there is not anyone seriously challenging whether it is appropriate for women to be in these leadership roles.
If only we could say the same for the private sector. In both of our countries, women are a majority of the students entering universities and in many fields make up a majority of those in entry-level positions. Relatively few women make it to the top leadership positions. In the U.S., nearly 4% of CEOs of the Fortune 500 companies are women, and slightly over 3% of CEOs of publicly traded companies in the U.S. are women. That number is no better in the EU, where 3% of CEOs are women. The last figures I saw showed that the number in Denmark was even less.
A recent survey by McKinsey and Company which focused on 60 of the Fortune 500 companies showed that although 53% of those entering the companies were women, less than 20% of those in the pipeline to be considered for top-level positions were women – and 80% were men. This is true even though 80% of the companies demonstrated a commitment to gender diversity – either one by the HR director or by the company management.
“We need the best brains to work on this problem” – or, “we need a workforce that matches our customer demographics” epitomize the rationales offered. Why does it matter whether women are in corporate management? Again, studies by McKinsey, among others, find a correlation between women on corporate boards or women in top-level management and profitability. In a recent study, McKinsey found that operational profits of corporations with the most women on their boards are 56% higher than for corporations with no women on the boards.
So why does it matter? It is not just women’s rights or equal opportunity that should drive the promotion of women. It is good business to have women on boards and in positions of corporate leadership.
There is no one answer for why so few women make it to the top levels – some of it is personal choice, usually by women trying to balance family and career; some of it is obstacles faced by women along the way where men hire and promote men.
Trying to change this requires challenging the status quo. Some countries like Norway are opting for quotas to quickly increase the number of women on corporate boards. Too often the debate now is whether or not one favors quotas. In my view, the issue of quotas is a diversion. The focus should be on assisting women to get through the pipeline from entry level, through mid-level management, and into the ranks of corporate leaders including as CEOs and Board members.
Any corporation that today is not developing a strategy for increasing the number of women at the top levels should be held accountable by corporate owners and shareholders – because if they are not actively promoting women, then the companies are missing a great opportunity for long-term growth and profitability.
It may be a surprise to some that one of the largest emerging markets is not a country, but a gender: women
Investing in women is a sound strategy for job creation, economic growth and stability. Today there are more than 200 million women entrepreneurs worldwide. That number will grow. Women earn over USD $10 trillion each year, and this number is expected to grow by $5 trillion during the next few years. In some developing countries, women’s incomes are growing faster than men’s.
For the U.S. and for Denmark, women are a critical element of our foreign policy. Women’s entrepreneurship is a key aspect of our international economic agenda. We are proud to partner with Goldman Sachs, the World Bank, and Denmark, among others, in the “10,000 Women Initiative” to open doors for women to business education.
I congratulate Denmark for its pilot program in Tanzania to help women who graduate from business school and otherwise qualify for loans to receive them through local banks with Denmark guaranteeing 75% of the loan value.
So let me end where I began this presentation – that is with the understanding that women have important roles to play in our countries as well as within their own societies if we want to live in peaceful, stable and prosperous societies.
Women in positions of leadership – the world depends on it.