In a session on gender parity at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2016, government and business leaders agreed that to make meaningful progress in narrowing the gender gap requires abandoning set expectations for the roles of men and women, recognizing the benefits of diversity, and getting more men to commit to addressing this global challenge.
Even from a young age, “men are expected to lead and women are expected to nurture,” said Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer and member of the board of Facebook in the US. Added Jonas Prising, chairman and CEO of ManpowerGroup, US: “To have women not participate when they do have the skills is sub-optimisation on a massive scale.”
A key step to making progress towards gender parity is to have a clear and accurate picture of the gaps, said Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in the US. “We need a good repository of data to know where we are with men and women in the world,” she noted. Gender inclusion has a multiplier effect, Gates argued. “When society gets that virtual circle going for men and women, everybody is lifted up.”
Sandberg agreed. “The reason to work towards equality – whether woman or man – is that it is better for you,” she explained. “We should be doing this not because it’s the right thing, but because it’s the smart thing. If you engage and build diverse teams, you will outperform. So do it because it will help you.”
On becoming prime minister of Canada in November last year, Justin Trudeau appointed a gender-equal cabinet. Asked about that decision, Trudeau explained that he could not have achieved the balance if he and his party had not made concerted efforts in the years running up to the election to recruit women to run for parliament. “There was a lot of hard work we had to do,” he acknowledged. “With gender parity and diversity, you are getting better decision-making and governance.” It allows for a more conciliatory and problem-solving approach to government and politics, Trudeau reckoned.
The use of quotas to bolster women’s participation in leadership positions can have a positive impact. “I believe in such quotas,” said real estate entrepreneur Zhang Xin, CEO and co-founder of SOHO China. Sandberg had reservations: “While quotas may be good in certain circumstances, we can’t rely on them to change things to which they are not applied.”
Trudeau asserted that, to achieve a gender-balanced cabinet, he did not have to compromise on the quality of the ministers he selected. His priority for speeding up progress in achieving gender parity: Get men involved. “Men have to be a big part of this conversation,” the prime minister said. Men, he concluded, “shouldn’t be afraid of the word ‘feminist’ and men and women shouldn’t be afraid of describing themselves as feminist.”
Separately, members of the World Economic Forum’s Oil & Gas community released a “Call to Action” for the industry to close the gender gap within the sector. Endorsed by 22 leading companies, the declaration includes seven guiding principles for the group’s efforts to address the gender gap.