International Women’s Day: The Role of Women in Business and Economics
March 8th symbolizes International Women’s Day (IWD). Since 1911, this day celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women1, while at the same time reminding us of the progress still to be made in terms of gender equity around the world. The presence of women in leadership positions has been expanding in many sectors, particularly in economics, as it is reflected by the recent appointment of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala2 to the director general position in the World Trade Organization (WTO).
Over its past discussions and Conferences, the IEFA had the honor and privilege to welcome many influential women to speak about women’s representation in businesses, economics, investments and climate change3.
This article will present the importance of women in economics, the ongoing challenges still faced, as well as different influential speakers’ point of view. Alongside the #ChooseToChallenge of the IWD, it is important to highlight the importance of women’s leadership in economics and beyond.
Defining the role of women in Economics and the importance of empowerment and intersectionality
As women represent 50% of the population, there can only be benefits to their economic empowerment.
The United Nations defines women’s economic empowerment as: to “include women’s ability to participate equally in existing markets; their access to and control over productive resources, access to decent work, control over their own time, lives and bodies; and increased voice, agency and meaningful participation in economic decision-making at all levels from the household to international institutions4”.
Moreover, making sure that women are represented in economics, intersectionality, meaning “the complex manner in which the effects of different forms of discrimination combine, overlap or intersect5”, is important in order to achieve overall women’s equality and empowerment6. In other words, when analyzing women’s empowerment, it is necessary to go beyond the simple concept of sex and gender and include race, ethnicity, sexuality and social background in order to avoid systemic discrimination, which can slow down the efforts of equal representation of men and women in the economic sphere. Therefore, looking through an intersectional feminist lens in business can help to ensure a better equity and empowerment among women.
Women in economics and the upcoming challenges
The influence and representation of women in economics have grown in importance over the past years. Amongst women in prominent leading roles, we can name Janet Yellen, Secretary of the Treasury in the United States, and Christine Lagarde, President of the European Central Bank.
However, some challenges remain. Some examples are that, women entrepreneurs lack access to the same financing as given men, there is still a persisting wage gap and women are still under-represented in senior positions.
Moreover, the ongoing pandemic has shaped new difficulties for women such as the burden of domestic charges when working from home. There is an increasing difficulty for women to balance work and life commitments, leading women to quit their jobs7. The sectors of services or manufacturing, employing mainly women, have been severely affected during the pandemic which has resulted in job-losses and increasing of poverty8. Amongst women, girls have been strikingly affected by the closing of schools which has restrained their access to education and therefore, put their entire future at risk. In addition, gender-based violence’s and unwanted pregnancies due to the lack of accessibility to contraceptives have also been rising due to the COVID-19 measures9.
Women in leading positions: optimism and improvement
Where there is room for improvement, there is also room for action.
In the past events, IEFA had the opportunity to welcome leading women such as Stacey Cunningham, President, New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) and Mellody Hobson, President & Co-CEO, Ariel Investments; and Chair, Starbucks Corporation. Amongst the influential women that have participated in previous IEFA conversations, some shared some advices and positivism as regard to the improvement of women’s participation and Leadership.
When Eileen Murray, Chair, Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), started her career, only 0.5 % of senior positions were held by women, compared to 17% today. While it remains encouraging, this progress is slower than should be expected for women to fill more of senior positions.
In general, inclusion is really important. For Karen Karniol-Tambour, Head of Investment Research at Bridgewater Associates, “industries have been dramatically entitled to inclusion and diversity”. She is truly optimistic about more inclusiveness in the future. There are now a lot of women who are role-models for young people to follow, and a lot of women she had personally mentored grow to reach much higher positions. In addition, she highlights the importance of the role for men to also mentor and push women to aim for places where they are not yet represented.
For Sharon Thorne, Chair of the Global Board of Directors, Deloitte, sponsorship is important because it gives opportunities that will enable people to move forward. She also emphasizes how fighting stereotypes are important. In a working environment, micro behaviors and aggression are current and are necessary to avoid to drive culture changes. During the same discussion, Joyce Chang, Managing Director and Chair, Global Research, JP Morgan, highlights also interesting issues, such as Women lacking investments for small businesses and the need to develop maternity leaves mentors.
Finally, Carmen Reinhart, Vice President and Chief Economist of the World Bank Group, highlights the important role that will have to take women in charge of leading Central Banks and World Organizations regarding the COVID-19 crisis. Certainly, inequalities have been rising and with the burden of the crisis mainly on women and girls, and an objective would be to ensure young girls’ future by making sure they have equal access to education.
A more inclusive and balanced representation of women in key roles would lead to a better response to the post-COVID crisis. Moreover, providing more opportunities and mentorship for women would help to achieve a better inclusiveness and also normalize the role of women in leading positions.
Therefore, it is important to keep in mind March 8th as a symbol of women’s past achievements, while marching towards a more inclusive and diverse future. International Women’s Day 2021’s theme is “Choose to challenge”, meaning: let’s challenge stereotypes, and let’s set the ground for women and girls to seize every opportunity to build their future.
The IEFA is proud to highlight the work of women from different backgrounds and horizons, and is looking forward to share more discussions in order to celebrate diversity in the economic sector and beyond.