At the beginning of March, I attended the SHE Conference in Oslo. This is Europe´s largest gender diversity conference, aiming to close the gender gap in business. It was an amazing day, with an impressive list of speakers: entrepreneurs, leaders, investors, and politicians. I was quite proud to be there. But instead of posting a selfie from the conference, showing the world “I am here”, I have deliberately waited to post this, because I wanted to see what I remembered from the conference after a couple of months had passed. Going to conferences is always inspirational, you meet new people, learn something new and generally feel motivated and open to new ideas. But to understand the real effect of the conference, I wanted to observe myself in the weeks and months following it, to see if I in fact have changed in the way I think, speak, or act.
And I can honestly say that I have, and admittedly, I’m a little surprised. This is the first time that I can observe a change in my own thoughts and actions, as a direct result of attending a conference. How cool! What is NOT cool, on the other hand, is the facts I learned that made me change.
Two things stand out for me when looking back at the conference.
First: GENDER PARITY. Since 2006 the Global Gender Gap Index has been measuring the extent of gender-based gaps among four key dimensions (Economic Participation and Opportunity, Educational Attainment, Health and Survival, and Political Empowerment) and tracking progress towards closing these gaps over time.
If someone had asked me earlier about how long I think it will take before we reach gender parity worldwide, I would have followed this line of reasoning: looking back a hundred years and seeing how much has changed until today…and knowing that everything develops faster and faster now, I would say…maybe 30-40 years?
What SHE taught me is that the overall global gender gap will close in 99.5 years, in average, according to WEF´s Global Gender Gap Report 2020, and it will take 257 years for the “Economic Participation and Opportunity” gender gap to close at the current rate of progress. 257 years! We cannot wait that long. We need to speed up.
WHY? Because equality is not only a moral question, it is also an economical question. Most of us know this already, but it deserves to be repeated. Equality and diversity in the workplace mean better decisions, more innovation, more sustainable and profitable companies. Equality is better for all of us. Simple as that.
The next eye-opener came when Dr. Leila Hussein OBE informed about the numbers of female genital mutilation (FGM) victims worldwide. (FGM involves the partial or total removal of the female external genitalia for non-medical reasons, and is described by the UN as child abuse). I knew about this horrible tradition, but I had no idea about the numbers, I thought it was quite rare.
What SHE taught me is that the UN estimates that 200 million women and girls have undergone FGM. According to the UN, more than 500,000 women and girls in the US have undergone FGM or are at risk of doing so. In Australia, more than 50,000 women and girls had been cut, while an estimated 600,000 have undergone the practice across the EU. In the UK, 137,000 women and girls had been cut and more than 67,000 are at risk. About 70,000 had undergone FGM in Germany.
These numbers are horrible! Why don´t we talk about it more often? Where´s the public outrage? This is not something that happens far away from you, on the other side of the planet…it happens everywhere, and it needs to be stopped. Please consider supporting organizations like the Dahlia Project to raise awareness about this.
So what did SHE teach me about equality and diversity, if I sum it up?
- It is important for ECONOMIC reasons as well as for moral ones
- It is URGENT – for the same reasons
- It is relevant to EVERYONE, including myself, even if I am not directly affected by discrimination or unfairness myself. (The current virus-situation shows how connected we all are…)
And how has it changed the way I think, speak and act?
It has added an extra dimension to my thinking, in the way that I am more conscious about having a broader perspective when making decisions. I remember to look at things from more angles, and I try to listen also to the voices that don´t speak out loud….
In my recruitment work, I adjust my communication when I speak to men vs women about a job, knowing that the degree of self-assessment in relation to job requirements differs significantly between the sexes.
And most importantly, in my actions: I have put diversity on top of the list when I create my search strategy, not at the end. And I work harder to achieve it in my recruitment processes.
Still inspired by the conference, I keep “diversity” as a mantra in the back of my mind, and try my best to BE THE CHANGE.