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Investing in Women’s Voices: Numbers That Can’t Be Ignored

Updated: Mar 25, 2019

April 3, 2018

The world has finally woken up to inequality in gender representation: and it’s even more widespread than we knew. It’s not getting better, and women are still fighting for their place in a male-dominated world.

According to the World Economic Forum Global Gender Report 2017 the equity disparity across health, education, politics and the workplace is actually widening for the first time since records began in 2006.

Despite the fact that the breakdown of the world’s approximately 7.6 billion people is an almost equal number of men to women – women are underrepresented in almost every sector of society. From business, to the press, to leadership in politics and the media – women are still - in many cases- relegated to a second class all over the world.

How can this be in a year of #MeToo, #TimesUp and at least a half century of raising awareness of the gender gap? Progress is being made too slowly and, if bold action is not taken now, numerous studies suggest it will be 100 years before full equality comes about.

The venerable consulting firm McKinsey & Company, long known for their documentation and studies of inequity against women in the workplace, recently missed an opportunity to appoint a woman as its new global managing partner and instead chose Kevin Sneader, a Brit born in Scotland. Only one woman out of 560 senior partners was even in contention for the position.

Whether at the helm of a global consulting firm or a start-up, women bring more value, more success and more sustainable returns to businesses they start, run or are involved in. Study after study tells us that women are the largest economic market on the planet, and by including women in business and leadership roles, trillions of dollars will be added to bottom lines across the world. For instance, a recent PwC `Women in Work Index 2017’ study showed that increasing women’s roles in work in the OECD alone would boost GDP by $6 trillion USD. Isn’t financial gain incentive enough?

To be fair, we are starting to see the acceptance of the role of women leaders and sparks of change at the highest levels. This year, for the first time in the 48-year history of the World Economic Forum, the summit was chaired entirely by women, a long overdue step. However the “Davos Man” still dominated the attendee list, with only about 25% of WEF’s speakers being women. At important gatherings like this, we must prioritize gender parity in keynotes and panels as the norm and as a true representation of the global population.

And yet, even small bits of progress are overshadowed by glaring examples of a lack of diversity and the inclusion of women’s voices in thought leadership and programming.

Take the case of this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The global tech fest is generally considered the premier showcase for leading edge trends. But all six-keynote opportunities this year were given to white men.


The Senior Vice President of the Consumer Technology Association which puts on the annual confab, Karen Chupka, told Ad Age there was a “limited pool of women” who fit the appropriate criteria, and she wrote in a blog post:

“To keynote at CES, the speaker must head (president/CEO level) a large entity who has name recognition in the industry.”

Further explaining,

“CES made a concerted push to diversify its entire speaker lineup, but ultimately failed to find a high-ranking female executive for an individual keynote address.”


In the aftermath of such a lame excuse, many in the industry offered up prominent, qualified women who would have been suitable including Ginni Rometty, the chair, president, and CEO of IBM (a tech company); Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook; Susan Wojcicki, CEO of Youtube; Safra Catz, Co-CEO of Oracle, and the list goes on…

Even with so much media attention and criticism being paid to gender equality, many conference organizers seemingly remain tone-deaf to the concept of parity. A more recent case is the prominent RSA technology conference later this month in San Francisco. Of the 30 "keynote speakers" they have confirmed, eight are women.

In all candor, some conference organizers are openly stating they know they have a problem, and are pledging to do something about it - after years of neglect. This year’s South by Southwest Festival did, over the course of 10 days, program more than 50 events and panels devoted to gender and the #MeToo issue. In addition, their pledge to ensure that every panel had at least one woman on it is a step in the right direction.

As Andrew Sheivachman at Skift recently stated,

It’s time for the world’s most popular innovation conferences to not only take a stand against sexual discrimination, but develop programs that help attendees grapple with gender issues that are often ignored.

And we would add that it’s also time to value women’s voices at every stage of a career and give them a seat on the stage.

We believe that both public and private events - places where thought leadership and ideas are exchanged, where individuals are often labeled as `visionaries’ simply because they’re speaking - should feature and support gender equality. It matters who is in the pipeline, in the c-suite and on the stage, and our choices should lead by example.

In this spirit, we’re seeing a remarkable transformation at diplomatic institutions. The United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres actively recruited women to top leadership positions - even going beyond parity with 23 women and 21 men in the most coveted roles. Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the new Director General of the World Health Organization, chose a new leadership team of more than 60% women from 14 countries when he took office.

If this wasn’t enough of an endorsement of women by global leaders, a recent "Better Leadership, Better World" study by the Business Commission makes the case that women should be the lead on the world’s 2030 SDGs — and its director, Gail Klintworth described women leaders as "the secret sauce that could propel today’s business into a new era."

If male champions can lead change, we women can no longer make excuses for not elevating women ourselves. It matters whose voices are heard in international forums of leadership and influencers. In our `Brand Me’ historical moment, being known, being seen, being heard is power. And that power is even stronger when women can help amplify other women’s voices.

As we mark the end of Women’s History Month, we’re launching the C5 Collective - in order to ensure and add our significant talents, skills and resources to the equitable elevation of women of all ages in many forums. As a consulting firm led by women partners, we’re dedicated to bringing diverse ideas and women’s voices forward in op-eds, at meetings, on stages and other places where ideas are exchanged and shaped for global impact.

In a world where technology has made it easier to communicate and to be heard, we view gender parity in thought leadership as a central component to elevating ideas, and creating a more inclusive and richer dialogue among all global leaders and citizens. Next time you see an #allmalepanel advertised or a series of op-eds with only men’s voices represented - or you’re in a meeting where a woman’s voice is drowned out - what will you do?

We hope you’ll join us in working for change by elevating women and diverse communities in thought leadership and by investing your time, talent, and treasure to ensure their voices are not dismissed or silenced. The promise of tomorrow depends on investing in women’s voices today and every day.

Joy DiBenedetto, Maria Ebrahimji, Lori Levin and Nicole Schiegg are the founders and Managing Partners of C5 Collective and are passionate and devoted practitioners of strategies which bring innovation and equality to events, conferences, summits and brand initiatives.


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