Would more women in power and more gender equality make the world a better place?
A group of pretty influential people from around the globe are going to try and answer that today. I’m live blogging from the Harvard Kennedy School attending a conference called “Closing the Gender Gap: The Business Case for Organizations, Politics and Society.”
Below I’ve included some key comments but here’s my summation thus far:
The end of the second session is nearing and what I’m getting at this point is despite some of the advances women have made in terms of equity in the last 20 years, women have still made very little progress in terms of becoming a bigger part of political and corporate leadership.
There are attempts at structural changes. The big one talked about this morning has been quotas; basically forcing governments to set aside political seats for women. The jury seems to be out on how well these quotas are working. Several researches in attendance are studying the impact right now; but initial reports show they can make at least minor changes and get people focusing more on important societal issues.
A sense of frustration also emerges among a few speakers and participants regarding why so little has happened despite so much research showing the importance of gender equity.
What follows are some key comments from speakers.
First session, The societal perspective: gender equality and development.
*Mayra Buvinic, a director at the World Bank discusses how gender inequality impact economic outcomes:
“There’s a strong relationship between gender inequality and poverty.
We have enough evidence by now to show the relationship that if there’s increased gender equality in households we have greater poverty reduction.”
“If women join the labor markets, also you have mothers greater control over decisions in households, there’s improved child well being, and greater productivity of the children of these women.”
*Sandra Lawson, senior global economist, Goldman Sachs:
“The gains for educating girls and having more women in the workforce are so sweeping.” She said when girls are educated the fertility rate declines and those nations do better economically.”
*Saadia Zahidi, director and head of constituents, World Economic Forum:
Gender Gap Index –
Four principal features,
* Health and survival. Healthy.
* Education attainment, literacy rates.
* Economic participation and opportunity
* Political empowerment.
Iceland is #1 and the United States is 19th.
Is there any hope for gender equality? “When we started in 2005 with the index, one of the statistics we came across is if we continue at the current pace we’d get there by year 4000.”
“What we find, countries have made enormous progress and absolutely flat in others. For example, United Kingdom has remained flat over last ten years. Countries like Turkey, at bottom, make 10 percent increases.”
The political perspective: Gender diversity and political outcomes:
*Mona Lena Krook, assistant professor of political science and women, gender, and sexuality studies, Washington University. She is studying gender quotas:
“Electoral gender quotas are a new global trend, adopted by about 100 countries. Seats are set aside for women in parliaments, most of these appeared since eyar 2000, most are in Africa Asia Middle East, 25 to 30 percent reserved for women, and 40 percent in India.
“Also see party quotas, first appeared in 1970s, in Western Europe, not increased to 60 or 70 countries that have them.
“Legislative quotas, first appeared in 1991, in Latin America, now see in Middle East and Balkans and Africa.
“Quota campaigns women’s groups, and political elites. The UN played an important role here, and African and European Union.
“There are lots of different types of actors pushing these quotas. Also proposed for strategic reason, as much as advancing women.
“Reserved seats are a guarantee. But party and legislative quotas, just apply to number of candidate. You actually may not see women elected. We see a number of cases where we see dramatic increases, Rwanda, has 56 percent in parliament, partly driven by reserve seat policy. Some quotas have led to no change at all. France is and example. Couple of cases seen decreases in number of women elected, Brazil and Spain.”
She’s now researching whether quotas are a good or bad thing. Advocates say it will increase the number of women elected and they will help bolster women’s issues. But it may also mean that less experienced women will enter politics.
“In Norway, Kenya, women participation in policy making and the legislature helped allow legislation in favor of family and women’s issues for the betterment of those economies.”
He talked a lot what Deloitte has done to promote women in leadership, including 1000 women partners. He didn’t say what percentage that was of the total. I’ll track him down and find out.
“If we can’t figure out what to do we should stop conferring and start working harder.
“We actually know the problem and that’s a little bit of the problem. We know when we have more women, we get more money for women’s issues. And produce better results. We know that the debate shifts. We know what happens when women are at the table, by and large.
“What can we do differently to really get this to happen?
“So many stories out there where people are doing things, significant things. In Binghamton, NY, a women ran for the city counsel, and saw there were not enough grocery stores to get people to eat right. She’s built two grocery stores in that community.
“People still don’t know you can actually change things and they are discouraged.
“How do we inspire people in this country?”
“Women are changing domestic violence in India by doing all sorts of multi media things. There has got to be something different. All of us have tried these things.
“Question is not why women matter, the question is why aren’t they in the positions of power where changes are made?
“How are we going to come up with things to do differently? We have the research. We should think of things, make sure we’re not sitting here in another three years and saying ‘how are we going to do this?’”
“India has roughly 10 percent of female politicians and is one of the countries that has quotas.
“India has a bill that seeks to reserve 33 percent of the state and national legislature positions for women.
“We’ve been looking at example of what has happened at the local level and what would happen at the national level and other countries?
“Do quotas influence the policy voice afforded to women? Does it lead to change in social and political attitudes?
“Do different people get selected under quotas?”
She said it did not seem to change religious diversity in villages they researched, but women did tend to advocate more for family and societal issues, such as clean water.
As far as bias against women to be in political leadership, she said, “when exposed to women leader, the bias disappears. When no experience with women (existed, men were more likely to say a speech (a women would give) is bad. But in the villages where they had the quota experience, that changes their answer. The bias is entirely erased. And in some cases, men like the women better.”
Political power and its benefits.
“It makes a huge difference, research shows if you have women in legislative bodies the agenda is affected. I don’t think that women are better than men. Men are often better at using power than we are. They enjoy using their power to help one another, women often are (not comfortable) about doing that. We can learn a lot from men.
“As women become more of critical mass in legislative bodies men are able to become the things they want to be.
“Many men are often not all that comfortable in the macho uni-gender institution and a lot of times they welcome the presence of women.”
Tokenism won’t work, she stressed. We need a critical mass of women in government so women from all socio economic levels will have a voice.
“We do need to act. We do need to be radical. It’s not men against women. It’s men who get it and women who get it.”
*Priya Manickchand, minister of human services & social security, Guyana.
“It’s not that men don’t want to do good, they just simply can’t have the experience of a woman because they’re not. A woman who fetches water every day, knows about clean water.
“I’m a strong believer in public policy shaping a culture, changing the culture of the way the female gender is treated. If we want to be best world we can we can’t leave half of our populations aside.
“Power deriving from political office and political power deriving from unity around a cause, you can close the gap, bring the ends closer together.
“I have five-month year old daughter and I don’t want her to be talking about this.
“We are weaker at enforcing all of the things we’ve talked about before. What is the obstacle of getting from talking about it to doing it? How are we going to unite across countries, boarders, religions, offices, the political, business, to send this message to governments, NGOs, women’s groups men’s groups, that this has to be done if were going to be the world that we can be.
“I believe strongly that two things have to be done. One is quotas. Seems to be still an argument about whether quota is effective.”
She said someone had suggested to her that we set goals not quotas, to which, she said, “we don’t have the luxury for goals. Goals you can do if we are in a civilized place. We have to move to quotas in government, business, until we get to a place when we can start talking about goals. A sure way to derive benefits that derive from political power.”
The question and answer session started out with a discussion on how men may see the closing of the gender gap as a threat.
Manickchand said, “Someone is going to lose. We can’t leave it up to people to come around to this generously.”
Why are women afraid to step up, be scientists and leaders? Campbell said, “Ambition became a dirty word in the 80s.
Without it you’re just a lump.”
Women in power are still rare.
“Unless we constantly re-expose people to them, and telling those stories, of women who are doing those things,” she said.
The individual perspective: Gender and financial decision making:
She showed us a video of a stairwell in a subway where the stairs were piano keys, making a case that you can nudge people into doing things like exercise in this case. But she makes a case that nudging organizations to change can be effective.
“Are there gender differences in negotiations? Yes. But whether or not the negotiators is a man or women is a poor predictor. It is situational factors that help to explain gender differences in negotiation performance.”
- Propensity to negotiate. Women are more reticent than men to initiate negotiations.
- Value claiming. Men claim a larger share of the pie.
- Value creating. Less likely to engage in conflict.
So she surmises, where there’s high ambiguity, where women don’t have defined numbers or structure on what they’re supposed to negotiate for, they are less likely to negotiate. And overall, women pay a higher cost for negotiating.
“We find it unattractive, not nice, if a women negotiates for herself.”
Building the bridge: Perspectives on closing gender gaps in society, politics and organizations.
*Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Ernest L. Arbuckle professor of business administration, Harvard Business School:
She offers some key variables she believes are keeping women out of leadership.
“Leadership itself. It turned out the people who rose into positions that had the greatest power were people who were trusted to handle uncertainty. Systematically, the people who got the opportunities to be in roles where they handled a great deal of uncertainty, tended to resemble people in those roles, people already in power.”
A hopeful sign today, she said, is there are more women in the pipeline and that means they can show they have a track record.
Another issues, she added, is the “household division of labor has not changed as quickly as the labor market. To rise in leadership positions you need to do the extras, extra projects, travel, getting on nonprofit boards. People who perform the job very well, may still not have discretionary time necessary to prove leadership.”
Also, women are often not perceived as the people that can take subordinates up the ladder with them because they aren’t seen as the best bet for riding coattails and also they don’t have as much access to organization favors.
“The numbers. If you have too few women your always there as a women. I resigned at one point from being a women. It was so annoying. If you need a woman, I’ll help you find one.” Her point was she wanted to be wanted for her abilities, not because she was a woman.
“We will never break the cycle just by trickling women in. We’ll never prove the fate of organization depends on them.”