There’s no question that significant barriers to women’s advancement remain intact. In fact, the head of UN Women pointed out that a girl born today will be an 81 year-old grandmother before she has the same chance as a man to become a CEO , and she will have to wait until she is 50 years old to have an equal chance to head a country. Yet, if you rewind a year, two years, pick a number in the past decade, doesn’t it feel like we’ve already had the very same conversations, quoting the very same bleak statistics, sharing the very same frustrations?While women clearly still face significant obstacles in achieving the gender parity we all hope for, this shouldn’t completely overshadow the huge strides women are making as leaders, innovators, and money-earners. In fact, we are breaking new ground in every industry and closing, albeit slowly, the infamous wage gap every year.
As we celebrate the 107th annual International Women’s Day this Sunday, March 8th, here are some examples of the notable progress women have made and how women are changing the face of power and wielding influence to positively impact all aspects of our globally-connected world.
1. Political Powerhouses
Women’s representation in Washington is at an all time high, with women making up nearly one fifth of the 114th Congress . Female lawmakers account for 20 seats in the U.S. Senate and a record 84 seats in the House, up from 80 during the last Congress. Notable newcomers include Elise Stefanik, who at age 30 was sworn in as the youngest woman ever elected to Congress, as well as Mia Love, the first black female Republican elected to Congress.
What’s more, while the presence of women in the highest political positions remains anemic, 63% of Americans believe the country would be better governed if more women held elected office.
2. Billionaires On The Rise
2015 was a record-breaking year for women on Forbes annual ranking of the World’s Billionaires. In just three years, the number of female billionaires on the list has grown by 90%, with 197 women represented in this year’s ranking. Notable newcomers to the list include Elizabeth Holmes, founder of the blood testing company Theranos, who at the age of 31 has become the youngest self-made female billionaire in the world. Folorunsho Alakija is a Nigerian businesswoman who has replaced Isabel dos Santos as the richest woman of Africa, and also is the richest black woman in the world. She is a business tycoon involved in the fashion, oil and printing industries. She is the group managing director of The Rose of Sharon Group which consists of The Rose of Sharon Prints & Promotions Limited and Digital Reality Prints Limited and the executive vice-chairman of Famfa Oil Limited. Alakija is ranked by Forbes as the richest woman in Nigeria with an estimated net worth of $2.5 billion and as of 2014, she is listed as the 96th most powerful woman in the world by
3. Entrepreneurs Trending
Women continue to be one of the most dynamic engines of economic growth in this country. The latest Open State of Women-Owned Business report estimated that there are now over 9 million women-owned businesses in the U.S. that generate over $1.4 trillion in revenue and 7.8 million jobs. Women are starting 1,200 new businesses a day, up 65% from the year prior, with four out of every ten new firms being launched by a female .
4. Driving The Bottom Line
Research has continued to show strong links between female representation on corporate boards and a company’s improved financial performance. A study by Credit Suisse found that companies with at least one female director outperformed all-male boards by an average of 5% since 2012, and were likely to pay higher dividends to shareholders.
More notably, the study found that women’s participation in senior management and C-level roles also appears to positively impact the bottom line. Senior teams that had 15% or more women demonstrated a return on equity of 14.7%, nearly 5% higher than those teams with fewer than 10% women. Similarly, an analysis by Bespoke Investment shows that over the past five years, women-led companies on the S&P 500 have posted a 19.5% stock gain versus a 14.9% uptick for those headed by male CEOs .
5. From the Playing Field To The Corner Office
It’s been more than 40 years since the passage of Title IX, and the benefits of having more young girls and women play competitive sports continues to extend far beyond their athletic endeavors. A recent study by EY of more than 400 female executives around the world found that the majority of women holding C-level positions played sports at an advanced university level (52%) , with 96% having played at some level during their school years. Of the senior management surveyed, 74% agreed that participating in sports could help accelerate women’s leadership and career potential, with nearly two thirds of the women citing their participation in sports as a contributing factor in their own career success. The top 3 leadership skills attributed to sports: motivational skills, the ability to see projects through completion, and team building.
The annual pilgrimage to Davos wrapped up yesterday as the world’s most influential leaders departed the mountain top village with snow boots and solutions to the global economic crisis in toe (or so they say). Just 17% of this year’s snow boots though belonged to female delegates attending Davos, accounting for only 442 of the overall 2,200 attendees.
Women’s representation at the World Economic Forum remains static, as do the media headlines recycled year after year. Unable to conquer my jetlag, I found the same caption, “Where Are the Women of Davos?” headlining Davos coverage for over five years.
Significant barriers to women’s advancement remain. Yet disappointing statistics shouldn’t completely overshadow the areas of progress for women in leadership that are brought to the forefront at global gatherings.
This year, over 20 leaders from Forbes’ list of the world’s 100 Most Powerful Women attended the Forum. Most striking, two Power Women – German Chancellor Angela Merkel and International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde – led and dominated Davos discussions. Business luminaries, politicians, and international leaders alike all looked to these women for answers to stem Europe’s economic crisis. Despite their markedly different points of view, Merkel and Lagarde are not only tasked with saving the eurozone, but their actions influence the fate of the global economy. Just watching the role of these women at Davos serves as one of the greatest bright spots for the future of women in leadership.
Another bright spot? This Forum marked the fifth year that Ernst & Young and Forbes paid tribute to the members of Forbes’ Power Women’s list at Davos. Over 400 global leaders came together in celebration of the women whose roles exemplify the dynamic and diverse ways women wield influence around the world today.
“The first year we did the reception with Forbes, we thought it would be a great way to celebrate the world’s most powerful women that were at Davos. But frankly, we also wanted to send a subtle message that there weren’t enough and yet if you put them all in the room, you’d have a different experience — in our view, a better one!”, said Beth Brooke, Global Vice Chair of Ernst & Young. “We fundamentally believe that having more women in leadership will lead to better outcomes, as the research shows and as we know through our own experience. Better outcomes for society, for companies, and for countries.”
In this spirit, Ernst & Young CEO Jim Turley and Forbes recognized nine of Davos’ Power Women who included:
> Sheryl Sandberg, COO Facebook (#5)
> Margaret Hamburg, Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (#21)
> Josette Sheeran, Executive Director of the UN World Food Programme (#30)
> Arianna Huffington, Editor-In-Chief, AOL Huffington Post Media Group (#31)
> Helene Gayle, CEO, Care USA (#36)
> Marissa Mayer, Vice President of Location and Local Services, Google (#42)
> Mary Erdoes, CEO, J.P. Morgan Asset Management (#74)
> Dr. Drew Faust, President, Harvard University(#83)
> Beth Brooke, Global Vice Chair, Ernst & Young (#100)
These Power Women underscored that today, women have the unprecedented opportunity to exert influence in new, and at times, unconventional ways — ways that no longer demand leading a major corporation, or controlling a large payroll, or serving in political office. Cultural and humanitrian impact can mean as much as money and political influence. Today’s rapidly
evolving environment has created far more ways to have impact, particularly for women. Just look at seismic tech innovations and social media, not to mention the Power Women behind those platforms that have forever transformed influence and connectivity — the fundamental drivers of power.
As Jim Turley and I honored each of the Power Women on stage, I shared a fitting passage from my great-grandfather, B.C. Forbes, written in the debut issue of Forbes Magazine in 1917. On the premier cover of Forbes, my great-grandfather ran a prominent headline proclaiming, a new “Unique Department: Woman in Business.” The on-going feature was dedicated to “Her life in business…and her place in the business of life.” B.C. later went on to share:
But what struck me most when reading my great-grandfather’s words? B.C. launched this dedicated department for women in business two years before women gained the right to vote in this country. His mission still rings true nearly a century later and the Power Women honored Friday night are inspiring examples of this shared vision.
Humbled to be in the company of these amazing leaders, I was also reminded that we all face the same life foibles after one power woman kindly informed me that I had lipstick on my teeth. Thanking her, she grabbed my arm – “Promise to do the same with me. Last week I spent an entire meeting with ‘So and So’ (a renowned CEO) and can you believe that no one even bothered to tell me I had a piece of tomato stuck right on my front tooth.” What a night!
Writer: Moira Forbes
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