Closing the Gender Gap

“If women entrepreneurs participated equally in the economy, the GDP would go up by $5 trillion. That is good for business; that is good for our economy, and that’s common sense,” said designer Tori Burch in her acceptance speech at the 2019 Glamour Woman of the Year awards on Monday.

Burch, who recently launched Embrace Ambition, an image series that shines a spotlight on the ways women are shattering stereotypes around the world, added that women are often criticized when they stand up against men in business and elsewhere. “It’s simply unacceptable,” she said.

With “inclusivity” as the new buzzword for the year, firms are scrambling to render their businesses more culturally diverse and pondering if such strides will actually yield results. High fashion was under pressure, after the #metoo scandal, and snafus like Gucci and Prada’s “blackface” designs and Dolce & Gabbana’s “chopsticks” campaign. Since then, Prada formed a diversity council, and both Kering and Gucci appointed diversity chiefs to ensure equality and protect employees’ rights. Yet elsewhere, in a modern age and over 100 years since the suffragettes fought for the female vote, achieving gender equality is still an uphill climb.

According to a memo published in The Economist this month, the share of female executives at predominately American and British firms went from 12% to 14%; for ethnic minorities, it moved from 12% to 13% between 2015 and 2018. In American companies with over 100 employees, the percentage of black men in management was 3.4% in 2017, half their share in the population as a whole – and virtually unchanged from 3% in 1985. White women make up 25% of executives and senior managers, compared with 60% for white men. “Something is clearly amiss,” read the magazine’s “Diversity Memo,” shaped as a letter to the editor from an anonymous “shareholder.” The letter went on to state that “diversity” entered the corporate arena in the 1960s, promulgating a new mindset among executives in order to avoid lawsuits, especially in the United States where racism and violent racist acts were rampant. “The financial sector still treats it mostly as a compliance issue.”

In particular, the legal and tech sectors have been criticized for pigeonholing females into “household” positions within firms – like planning events and setting up meetings. That’s why an organization like “Girls Who Code” is on a mission to close the gender gap in technology and to change the image of what a programmer looks like and does and offer learning opportunities for students from middle school on to enhance their computer skills and boost their confidence. In fashion and tech, Women of Wearables (WoW) – the first global organization aiming to inspire, support, and connect women in wearable tech, fashion tech, smart textiles, IoT, health tech, and VR/AR – has set up chapters in tech hubs throughout the world.

Burch, who said that when she initially presented her business plan (built on purpose) to a group of male investors, she was advised never to combine business with social responsibility. She proved them wrong, turning what they deemed charity work into a billion-dollar business. The fashion mogul now uses hard data to prove that more women in the workplace is actually profitable in more ways than one.

According to her Embrace Ambition landing page, closing the wage gap for women around the world would add $28 trillion to the global GDP. Yet only 1 out of 23 loan dollars goes to female entrepreneurs. Only 27 countries have closed the gender gap on education; of the 100 highest paid athletes, only one is a woman; and finally, only 7.4 percent of all countries have had female heads of state over the past 50 years.

“We must combat the unconscious bias at the root of all inequity. And we believe that starts with embracing ambition. Whether that means being a stay-at-home mom, a business executive, or an activist – whatever ambition means to you.”

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