This year, the theme for the Women’s Forum is “Bridging Humanity.” What that means is the mobilization of women leaders’ formidable capacity to create connections - to bridge the gaps between people, insiders and outsiders, the public and private sectors and between new partners.
It is highly relevant that this year’s theme at the World Economic Forum in Davos was the strengthening of cooperation in a fractured world. At the opening panel, with the first ever all-women co-chairs, Christine Lagarde noted that there would be a focus on the cracks, the fault lines and the fracture of the world. The central question at WEF therefore, was focused on building a common future.
There were several examples of this focus on bridging gaps throughout the conference, constantly emphasising how many forms of exclusion are interconnected. Of those, one was a crucial panel on gender, power and stemming sexual harassment. Hosted by the New York Times, the panelists recounted stories and recognised the obvious need to eliminate sexual harassment and violence, while simultaneously emphasising a broader context – that there was a link between economic inequality and gender inequality and consequently, the two had to be tackled together.
In order to do that, inclusion becomes key, for it creates new connections between women and influence in economic life. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made this a central point in his address when he said:
“Embaucher, promouvoir et retenir plus de femmes se traduit non seulement par une augmentation de vos profits, mais aussi par une plus grande diversité d’idées. En effet, l’inclusion des femmes a le pouvoir d’amener l’innovation à un autre niveau et de faciliter la résolution des conflits.”
(Hiring, promoting and retaining more women not only translates into increased profits, but also more diversity of ideas. Indeed, the inclusion of women has the power to bring innovation to another level and to facilitate conflict resolution.)
He went on to say that “, much of the economic and labour force growth we've experienced over the last many decades is because of women entering into – and changing – the workforce.” I would add that this is especially true of women’s leadership, something that we have seen evidenced by our experience at the Women’s Forum.
French President Emmanuel Macron also addressed the fracture in women's leadership, with a particular emphasis on investment in education for girls. He noted that the leaders who will construct solutions to economic and social challenges in the world will be women, and so we need to maintain investment in girls' education today to empower them to do so.
Meanwhile, CEO of BlackRock Larry Fink emphasised the importance of financial inclusion, just after he sent a letter to other CEOs encouraging them to be more socially responsible. Despite record gains and growth, few are feeling the benefit. And creating bridges to access that growth is critical.
In another panel, participants discussed the issue of borders versus bridges. They noted that immigrants are used as scapegoats and there are immsense problems with short-term political thinking. It’s our belief, as borne out by evidence, that women exercising leadership in both host and migrant communications can help to create new connections that help to change this narrative.
All of these points show us the value of inclusion. We have moved beyond the ‘business case for diversity’. It’s well established. The next step is to understand that diversity is a means to the ends of inclusion, belonging, engagement and support. Understanding these broader strategic goals can make diversity efforts more effective.
The key theme of this year’s WEF was that of fractures, but there are two ways to view it. Yes, they are a problem to resolve, but it also represents an opportunity. There is a leadership gap for women that has gone uncorrected for decades, but that experience has given women a particular set of skills and insights to help overcome it.
To the extent that we can turn this leadership gap into an opportunity and mobilise women leaders to address global problems, we can bring new and original solutions. We’re encouraged by the fact that the theme of the Women’s Forum not only aligns with the insights that came out of this year’s World Economic Forum but also has the potential to take the conversation further by adding an emphasis on women’s leadership and a gendered perspective.