Gender equality conversations are perceived as unimportant, fashionable affairs by many. But most people realise this is not the case the moment they hear that the damage caused by gender disparity in global economy is 15 times as high as that the ongoing trade war is estimated to be causing, Ambassador Ulrik Knudsen, Deputy Secretary-General of the OECD, told the Bled Strategic Forum panel entitled (Re)sources in Women’s Hands: Tapping the Potential.
Moderated by Ambassador Simona Leskovar, the debate heard that there is an abundance of figures showing the damage caused by gender inequality and delved into reasons why it is taking so long to reach gender parity.
Men need to be involved in the debate, come to understand that empowering women means to empower entire societies, thus men have a vested interest in gender equality, said Ambassador Nasser Kamel, Secretary General of the Union for the Mediterranean.
The biggest challenge in doing this is translating convictions into action. One way to do this effectively is to introduce a monitoring system. The Union for the Mediterranean has introduced a peer review mechanism in which member states report to each other on their progress, according to Ambassador Kamel. He also believes that female empowerment must become a mainstream issue. Now, this is an issue of a single department or ministry, whereas it requires a whole-government approach.
Lady Barbara Judge CBE, Chairman of Athene Capital, underlined that women had an obligation to support and promote each other. Unless they do, how can they ask men to support them? She said that in company boards at least three women were needed to change the dynamics. Moreover, women should be encouraged to go into STEM and make sure they get money-making jobs in companies instead of being a part of the support staff, which get cut first during crises.
Monica McWilliams, Chair of Interpeace Governing Board, who was involved in the Northern Ireland peace negotiations, said that men were usually a part of various elites and the arms movements, but actual peace is made on the ground. Therefore women are indispensable. Women’s involvement in key conversations makes a huge difference, especially in peace processes. These should be inclusive, but in reality, women are often left out. She said that men should be and often are champions of women in face of misogyny and welcomed the peer review mechanism of the Union for the Mediterranean, saying that keeping an eye on progress was key.
Melanie Seier Larsen, Managing Director and Partner at the Boston Consulting Group, listed statistics showing that diverse companies are more innovative and more resilient, and have higher profit margins. Moreover, startups launched by gender balanced teams generate 10% more revenue than those founded by male teams.
While everything is clear on paper, much needs to be done to achieve actual progress. Ms Seier Larsen believes that this must be done over a longer period, the share of women in leadership cannot be increased from one year to the next. Managers need to think about succession and gender balance in future management teams at least five years or a decade in advance. She also urged more flexibility, which is especially important for mothers. Women start lagging behind their male colleagues after they have children, never making up for the time they lost as caretakers. Ms Seier Larsen believes that there must be an effort to push men into taking paternal leave, to minimise this gap.
Aleksander Zalaznik, President of the Managers’s Association of Slovenia and CEO of Danfoss Trata, said that legislation did not necessarily bring results and that awareness building was a better approach. He also urged women to show interest and be ambitious.
The notion that legislation is not enough was also echoed by Slovenia’s Education Minister Jernej Pikalo, who was in the audience. He believes that the problem has two sides. Not only are there few women in leading positions, there are also too few men in caretaker professions.