As an opportunity to highlight women’s contributions, International Women’s Day has always served to commemorate the cutting edge of the global women’s movement, from demanding better working conditions in US sweatshop factories of the early 1900s, to voting rights, pay equality and, more recently, promoting women’s leadership in politics and business. Recent years have featured women’s economic contributions, ranging from women producing nearly 90% of the food in Africa, to 7.8 million women-owned businesses in the U.S. with $1.2 trillion in total receipts. Yet qualified women are continually stymied in their efforts to contribute at the highest levels of economic and financial leadership, while global policies and companies forgo the benefits.
The disappointing numbers of women participating at the World Economic Forum in January was one highly visible and public manifestation of the challenge: While we are well into the 21st century, many participants and observers at Davos this year expressed astonishment, and even outrage, at the abysmally low representation of women. In this era, there are many outstanding examples of women’s representation at the highest levels of political and corporate leadership, including Christine Lagarde, Janet Yellen, Mary Barra, Sheryl Sandberg, and Presidents Park Geun Hye, Dilma Rousseff, and Michelle Bachelet. Yet even after the absence of women had been duly noted at the 2013 Forum, women’s representation at Davos in 2014 actually dropped, from 17% to 16%. Likewise, despite numerous studies that show the financial and governance benefits of mixed gender boards, global corporate boardrooms remain male-dominated, with women accounting for less than 15% of public company corporate board positions.
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