Originally posted The Century of Women on 85 Broads – a global network of 20,000 trailblazing women who are inspired, empowered, and connected.
Last week I had the distinct pleasure of seeing Isobel Coleman, the author of Paradise Beneath Her Feet, speak at a World Affairs Council event in Dallas. Like Isobel, for most of my career I strategically avoided “feminist” issues. After all, I grew up in a family where it was just as likely for a man to have a PhD as it was for a women and both genders were scientific leaders in their industries or political leaders in their communities. I have no brothers and my parents were clear from the age of 5 that we could be anything we wanted. We all saw Billie Jean King playing her famous tennis match, but to us kids, it was just another tennis match. She was there, playing against a guy, so what exactly was all the fuss about? Now, all these years later, I can appreciate Billie Jean and those like her for the courage they shared with world and the gifts they gave to all women.
As I made my way to the C-suite of some pretty impressive firms, I came to better understand the nuances and challenges that still exist for women today in the West. I also now view Women’s Empowerment as something that goes far beyond equal pay for equal work and obtaining 50/50 gender ratios. Much of the developing world’s success hinges on the empowerment of women in regions of the world where being raped can mean a brutal public death started by your own family.
Whereas the 20th century was clearly the beginning of equality for women, and phenomenal progress was made in a very short period of time, until our sisters in the remaining two-thirds of the world can freely speak, walk, vote, learn, and work, we cannot claim victory. As an eternal optimist I see much evidence that we are nearing a tipping point of progress that could get us there by the end of the 21 Century. 90 years is a long time. This is why I believe that the 21 Century is The Century of Women.
What Business and Politics Need the Most are Intrinsic to Women
The keys to success in the 21st Century are being more efficient with our resources, including the bottom of the pyramid, and innovating our way to preserving our environment instead of depleting it. We can all be thankful to the Henry Ford’s and JP Morgan’s of the world whose heavy-handed leadership led us through the Industrial Revolution. However, the skills needed to move forward in this century are far more intrinsic to women. I am in no way saying that women should replace all men leaders, but I am saying that we could all benefit from a few more women leaders.
When employees feel a part of a team, buy into the vision, feel they are heard, and are provided the opportunity to manage themselves, productivity and creativity skyrocket. In today’s business environment, most companies run at approximately half speed when it comes to human potential, productivity, and creativity. This is not about working longer and harder with fewer breaks. It’s all about desire, value, contribution, and time for rejuvenation and creative contemplation.
The 2010 Global IBM CEO Study, recently published, indicates the most important leadership qualities required over the next 5 years are: Creativity (60%), Integrity (52%), Global Thinking (35%), Influence (30%), Openness (28%), Dedication (26%), Focus on Sustainability (26%), Humility (12%), and Fairness (12%).
The paradigm shift that is revolutionizing not only business, but global social structures is a monumental opportunity for women leaders to step up and show the world that we have the innate leadership qualities that the world needs today and the courage to use them.
The Empowerment of Women in the Developing World
If you have any doubt that the empowerment of women is happening in places like the Middle East, you need only to read Isobel Coleman’s book, Paradise Beneath Her Feet. What she rightly points out is that for sustainable progress to take hold, it must come from within. The Soviets tried to forced education on women during their decade of occupation of Afghanistan and it ended up making things worse. Now Afghan men are sighting Islamic text to spread the notion that Islam is, and always has been, a religion that serves both genders equally. This is the only way for real progress to be made, and it is happening every day in the Middle East.
I’m sure most of you have heard about the “The Girl Effect” session at the 2009 World Economic Forum by now that unexpectedly stole the show despite having the worst time slot. Lee Howell, Davos Annual Meeting Director, indicated that, “The field work, economic analysis, and experience all point to the powerful effect you’ll have if you invest in girls.”
“A simple concept whose time has finally arrived”, wrote Ashish T. Galande of World Pulse. The tide is changing, but there is much work to do. Recognition of a solution and a change in mindset are always the first steps. “Despite the overwhelming evidence that helping girls escape poverty is the key to healthy social and economic growth, only a meager 0.6% of development money goes to this demographic” (Ashish T. Galande / World Pulse).
Shear Guts and Courage are Contagious
Technological advances have given all of us the ability to share and to seek out those who inspire and motivate us. Often it helps just to remind ourselves that we are not alone in our endeavors, despite how we may sometimes feel. 50 years ago, you might go months or years without hearing or reading something purely inspirational regarding the empowerment of women, now you can immerse yourself in wonderful stories, videos and writings anytime you heart desires.
Though many in the developing world don’t have access to technology, the few that do, spread the word. Conversely, those of us who live in the West have much better access to knowledge about women in the developing world and how we can support their efforts.
Shear guts and courage are highly contagious, especially from women to women. When we see others take risk, stand up for what is right, and challenge the status quo, we are much more inclined to do it ourselves. We must continue to support each other (men and women) in all endeavors that help to raise the level of human consciousness and provide a more meaningful life for more people. When you cut to the chase, this is the deep-seated desire of most . . . it is simply a part of being human. Sometimes, however, it gets covered with a bit of dust or becomes a little rusty. I believe that the power exists within everyone to good in the world. It is simply a choice how and when we use that power.