In what ABC moderator, Sabra Lane, called a “cracker of a speech”, Irene Natividad, President of the Global Summit of Women, provoked and prodded her National Press Club audience during Wednesday’s live ABC broadcast. To all those women who say they don’t want to reach leadership positions through mandatory gender quotas, her advice was blunt. “Get over it’, she said unapologetically, “Quotas accelerate women’s access [to leadership]. They increase demand for qualified women.”
Ms Natividad’s address titled Are we there yet? A Global Look at Women’s Journey to Leadership, focused on the pressing and urgent need for women to be in political decision-making positions in the face of entrenched gender inequality that is not changing fast enough. Beginning her talk, Ms Natividad spoke of the growing global gender equality movement, demonstrated by the 2017 Women’s Marches which was the largest single day of protest in the United States ever seen, and which saw 82 countries participate around the world.
Ms Natividad also referenced the #MeToo campaign, and the demonstrated power of women standing together against sexual harassment. “Change doesn’t happen without pressure,” she said, “There is security and courage in numbers.”
“But marches don’t change the fabric of women’s daily lives,” she said. What will make a difference is increasing the representation of women in positions of political leadership. Gender equality, Ms Natividad states, will be ultimately achieved through the economic and political empowerment of women globally.
The workforce is a primary site to target in this movement for equality, because economic security is paramount for women to eventually attain leadership roles. “I often say that women are like immigrants to the world of work,” Ms Natividad said. “It is a world not of our making.” To succeed in the workforce women are expected to learn to inhabit a system and a space that has been created by men, for men, with a reliance on women undertaking underpaid work in the household. But despite this entrenched inequality, as Ms Natividad pointed out, gender diversity in leadership has been linked directly to an increase in the bottom line of companies.
“How many more studies do we need?” she asked, referencing the over 70 global studies that have proven that companies with gender diversity on their boards have higher profit outcomes. She went on to elaborate on the power of gender quotas to address inequality and create distinct pathways for women into leadership roles, to ultimately embed gender equality into business practices.
Crucially, applying a gender lens to governance practices is fundamental to increasing gender equality outcomes. To that end, Ms Natividad was full of praise for Australia’s position as a ‘world leader’ when it comes to insisting on gender diversity in publicly listed companies, by making the measurement an ASX listing requirement.
The address was opened to questions from the floor, and Ms Natividad responded first to a question from our own Editor-In-Chief and Director of the 50/50 by 2030 Foundation, Virginia Haussegger, who asked why female-owned and run companies struggle to secure investment from venture capitalists. As well as focussing on changing the culture within the corporate sphere to be more aware of gender diversity, Ms Natividad highlighted the importance of ensuring that women-led businesses are included in the government supply chain.
In response to a question from Misha Schubert of the National Press Club on why Hilary Clinton wasn’t successful in the 2016 American presidential election, Ms Natividad said that misogyny and a lack of female role models were key factors affecting Ms Clinton’s campaign. “If you can’t see role models, you can’t be it,” she said, and pointed to the grassroots activism currently taking place in America to engage female voters and increase the number of women standing in local elections.
Finally, Ms Natividad closed her remarks with advice to young women to “have courage”, and to not shy away from the hard work of gaining experience to ultimately lead change in the future.
To view Irene Natividad’s full address go to ABC’s iView here.