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The progress vs. challenges of gender equality

Mar 30 2015

The great accomplishments of women vs. the pressing challenges to achieve gender equality dominated speeches and discussion at the recent Watermark Lead On Conference, where Hillary Rodham Clinton was the keynote speaker.

“The numbers are sobering,” said Clinton in reaction to the slow pace of change and reports that show that 11 percent of Silicon Valley executives and 20 percent of software developers are women. “We’re going backward in a field that is supposed to be all about going forward,” she said. “Companies should be held to account. It requires both men and women to speak up.”

Speaking before a sold-out audience at the Santa Clara Convention Center, Clinton was joined at the conference by more than 100 gender equality thought leaders who shared expertise, inspiration and encouragement in programs, breakout sessions, career advice corners and meet-ups. Speakers included former New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson, fashion icon Diane von Furstenberg, Intel chief diversity officer Rosalind Hudnell, technology journalist Kara Swisher and researcher Brene Brown.

Calling for greater diversity in the workforce and more economic and social progress for women, Clinton acknowledged her own difficulty raising awareness about gender equality. "Sometimes when I would go out and talk about women's issues — which I've done for decades — and particularly as Secretary of State, when I said that it was the great unfinished business of the 21st century, because the data on all of this is overwhelming, I could see men's eyes glaze over. I could see particularly foreign leaders but some Americans, too, saying, 'Oh yeah, here she goes. Just look like you're concentrating. Act like you're listening and this too shall pass.' “

Facing the Challenges

While Intel’s Hudnell said she sees great progress by individual women, she also feels depressed when she looks at the diversity statistics. But depressed and angry may be just where we should be, said Abramson, when you consider that white women make 78 cents, black women 64 cents and Latina women 53 cents on every dollar men make – up to a $434,000 loss over the lifetime of a career.

The key to making progress, according to many speakers, is to work together. Bina Chaurasia, chief of human resources at Ericsson, called for companies to join the work toward gender equality and pay equity; Katrina Alcorn, author of Maxed Out: American Moms on the Brink, called for men to lean in at home and in the workplace; and Clinton called for collaboration across party lines and encouraged the audience to “go out and find a group of people to lead on with.”

Collaboration is also on the agenda of the Clayman Institute. The newly launched Center for Women’s Leadership brings together cutting-edge research and real-world practice. Our aim is engage stakeholders from business, education and government in order to accelerate efforts to advance diversity and create inclusive environments. By encouraging the full participation of men and women, the Center aims to support women to lead on at all levels of society.  

A gender lens
exposes gaps in knowledge,
identifies root causes of barriers,
and proposes workable solutions.