Gender inequality is back in the spotlight, with a recent slowdown in progress attributed by the WEF’s Global Gender Gap Report 2016 to chronic imbalances in salaries and labour force participation.
“In the last few years, progress has slowed down,” says Christine Lagarde, MD of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in Washington DC, adding that gender inequality is not conducive to good inclusive economic growth.
Isabel de Saint Malo de Alvarado, vice-president and minister of foreign affairs of Panama, says women should have the opportunity to be in positions based on merit and not quotas, but admitted that it may take quotas to change the situation.
“I don’t think it will happen unless there are quotas,” she says.
Lagarde adds that gender quotas are in place at the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Robert Moritz, global chairman of PricewaterhouseCoopers International at PwC in the US, stresses that disruptive leadership is needed to improve diversity in the boardroom. He recommends, however, that gender programmes within a company are the way to go as opposed to quotas.
PwC is a supporter of the UN HeForShe initiative to promote gender equality around the world. But Moritz cautions: “If males are not in the conversation, you will miss it [reducing the gender gap].”
Cynthia Castro, vice-president of RBA – Reinventing Business for All in Costa Rica, agrees. “Gender inequality affects men because they think it is an issue about women,” she says.
Castro also underlines the importance of addressing gender bias in the recruitment process, paternity leave and equal parenting, and educating consumers. “You can’t be gender-blind in 2017; you have to be gender-smart.”
Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, documentary filmmaker at SOC Films in Pakistan, and a co-chair of the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2017, says she takes offense when people label her a female filmmaker. “I am a filmmaker, not a female filmmaker. What’s a female filmmaker?”
The award-winning documentary maker also credited technology for improving women’s lives and business opportunities. “Women are starting their own businesses using social media, forming networks online.”
Mortiz adds that technology is useful to manage the balance of professional activities with family responsibilities, and provides data to identify gender problems within a company or organisation.
“With this information, we can change policies and get to individuals from that information to have an intervention.”
At a more basic level, de Saint Malo de Alvarado says mobile phones can provide family planning information for rural women in developing countries who never previously had access.