INTERNATIONAL: How Male Allies Help the Gender Equality Movement

Friday, August 1, 2014
Fast Company
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General Women, Peace and Security
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Since the Seneca Falls Convention launched the women's rights movement in the United States 166 years ago, wise men have aided women in their pursuit of legal and economic inclusion.

Yet too often men are not seen as supporters of women's advancement. We forget that the 68 women who signed the Declaration of Sentiments in a sweltering upstate New York church in July 1848 were joined by 32 impassioned men, including a former slave, Frederick Douglass, and James Mott, who knew that supporting women's rights was essential for the moral soul and economic health of the nation.

Visionary men have long been public champions and behind-the-scenes dealmakers for the cause of women's inclusion. Today, we need them more than ever.

We are at an inflection point where women have made significant progress in achieving basic rights but equal economic and political power still eludes them.

In the U.S., women make up half of the workforce and earn more advanced degrees than men. They run businesses and lead nations, yet are stalled in what Barnard College president Debora Spar has called the “16% ghetto,” grossly underrepresented in leadership positions across sectors.

In parts of the developing world, gender equality is still too often a dangerous proposition, and women remain on the outskirts of opportunity.

Today, a new generation of forward-looking men has recognized that in order to further prosperity and global security, companies and countries will need to make women equal partners. They are making the evidence-based, economic case for equality.

Over the past decade, research by some of the world's most influential institutions--the World Bank, Goldman Sachs, McKinsey & Company, the International Monetary Fund, Ernst & Young, the World Economic Forum and others--has clearly demonstrated that women's full economic participation leads to greater competitiveness.

Indeed, women are increasingly becoming one of the most powerful economic forces in the world. In the U.S., they influence nearly 75% of purchasing decisions, and globally they control over $20 trillion in consumer spending.

Raising women's employment to male levels could increase GDP by 5% in the U.S., 9% in Japan, 12% in the United Arab Emirates, and 34% in Egypt. In the developing world, women who earn an income unleash a multiplier effect, as they are more likely than men to plow that money back into their families and communities, driving both economic growth and social progress. Investing in women is both the right thing to do and the smart and strategic thing to do.

In emerging economies, women's economic inclusion often deters gender-based violence and helps combat cultural norms that sometimes constrain women's participation, while in advanced democracies it is a counterweight to the insidious sexism that limits growth.

In Japan, a woman politician was recently heckled while making a speech urging increased public support for pregnant women. Fortunately, rather than curbing women's potential, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is placing them at the center of Japan's urgent push for growth by devising child care solutions and making boardroom representation by women a national priority.

At the World Bank, director Jim Kim has taken seriously the words of his predecessor, Robert Zoellick: “Gender equality is smart economics.”

Men like Coca-Cola CEO Muhtar Kent and Grameen Bank's Muhammad Yunus are championing women's economic inclusion, including women's access to capital and economic literacy. In Muhtar Kent's words, “The truth is that women are already the most dynamic and fastest growing economic force in the world today.” And Yunus, after learning that women in the developing world paid back loans far more reliably than men did, built a global microcredit movement that he is now expanding in the U.S. with Andrea Jung.

Today, when asked “Why women?” Yunus responds, “Why not women?”

Other men in the private and public sectors have become strong allies in this movement as well: Walmart led by Doug Mcmillon has made an ambitious pledge to source over $20 billion in products from women-owned business in the U.S. alone and just last week launched a program to create and place a “women-owned” logo on their products to help identify them for consumers.

Under the leadership of John Lisko of Saatchi and Saatchi, Toyota is championing women entrepreneurs who are addressing social issues through its Mothers of Invention program. Dr. Ebby Elahi, surgeon and philanthropist, has dedicated much of his pro bono medical practice to assisting women in need around the world through his work with the Virtue Foundation.

Government leaders have stepped up, too. Great Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague is leading a global effort to end sexual violence in conflict, just last month partnering with actress Angelina Jolie in a four-day summit to bring global attention the issue.

They are among the growing numbers of male leaders who understand that partnering with women yields a double dividend. We should celebrate these good men and hope many more follow their lead as the data confirms progress for women is progress for all.

--Ambassador Melanne Verveer is executive director of Georgetown University's Institute for Women, Peace and Security and a partner at Seneca Point Global, a global women strategy firm. Kim K. Azzarelli is chair of Cornell Law School's Avon Global Center for Women and Justice and is a partner at Seneca Point Global.