I’ve been fortunate in life to benefit from family, educators, work colleagues and a set of mentors and sponsors, all of whom did not hesitate to offer and support me with every opportunity to achieve what I set out to do. Far too many today are not so fortunate.
In the global marketplace, women remain the most untapped natural resource. According to the International Labor Organization, less than half of the world’s working-age women are employed, and a third of those women are underemployed.
As International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine LaGarde has said, “Women’s empowerment is not just a fundamentally moral cause, it is also an absolute economic no-brainer.”
The challenge areas for women’s equality are well known: education, healthcare, freedom from coercion and violence, employment opportunities, pay equity, access to capital, political representation, and access to leadership positions. The benefits of addressing these challenges are equally well-documented: societies with greater gender equality have been shown to be more prosperous, with faster economic growth. Many good organizations are working hard on specific opportunities with bold public policies, non-government organization assistance, corporate, and academic partnerships. It is important work.
One solution, I believe, is the power of changing the narrative. Policy efforts will find more fertile ground if they can happen in a context where men and women can imagine things being different than they have in the past. So, we also need to address the norms, the expectations, and the stories we tell ourselves. Those norms are not biologically determined. In my family, it was a norm to compete. In the firm I joined, it became a norm to promote the advancement and retention of women. My eventual appointment as CEO was the outcome of that inclusive culture.
We need to explore changing the narrative on a societal scale, and also in the smallest of moments—one-on-one conversations that inspire girls and women. I know because I experienced it. My college basketball coach gave me lessons about resilience. My colleague said to me, “You should take this assignment, it’ll be good for you.” My dad, father of five boys and three girls, encouraged us to be leaders not by word, but by action.
In an age of exponential change, we need the power of diverse thinking, and we cannot afford to leave any talent untapped. In the words of Secretary General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon, “The world will never realize 100% of its goals if 50% of its people cannot realize their full potential.” To take women’s equality from novelty to norm, we need to change narratives at a societal and individual level.