A substantial cohort of women has reached the upper echelons of government, business, and civil society. Leaders like Hillary Clinton, Christine Lagarde, and Melinda Gates are using their high visibility to draw attention to the importance of women and girls in today’s global economy and development. Women CEOs of DuPont, IBM, Xerox, PepsiCo, Sam’s Club, Campbell Soup, and General Motors, to name a few, oversee global companies collectively worth billions of dollars. Women presidents and prime ministers in countries including Germany, Denmark, South Korea, Chile, and Brazil are modeling female leadership and exercising hard power in the global arena. Media stars like Oprah Winfrey, Arianna Huffington, and Tina Brown are shaping the discourse around women and power, using their reach to tell women’s stories. High-profile business leaders like Diane von Furstenberg and Sheryl Sandberg have made women a central focus of their leadership, using their positions to empower other women. At the same time, women have also entered middle management in large numbers, where they are leveraging their influence and expertise to make the case for women and girls. At the base of the pyramid, too, women are creating inclusive networks that are yielding enormous transformation.
Obstacles to unleashing the potential of women, however, still stand in our way. They range from discrimination to widespread violence against women to the design flaws in the system that make it difficult for women to reconcile today’s economic realities with caregiving and other responsibilities. We must continue to work to eradicate these injustices and secure fundamental human rights for women.
But an undeniable momentum is building, as more women ascend to leadership and an increasing number of women and men recognize women’s potential to fast-forward us to a better world. We stand today on the cusp of a global power shift, one that has the potential to redefine the way we work and live. What follows is an explanation of what this unprecedented power shift could mean for each of us, and for our global community.
Through the stories and wisdom of women and men we know and admire, hailing from diverse industries, nations, and socioeconomic strata, we show how women’s growing economic power is creating social progress. This book lays out the many ways in which women drive the economy — as managers, employees, entrepreneurs, and consumers — and how this is changing the way we do business, define success, and create social impact. You will see how these women are using their power to drive their purpose, building businesses that give back, leveraging resources to empower other women, and engaging in skillsbased volunteerism and philanthropy. This is a reference book for those who want to master and disseminate the data on the business case for women, and a how-to manual for those who want to harness their own power and combine it with purpose. To that end, we have included in the appendices a toolkit with some practical advice as well as selected resources that can help you continue on your personal journey. More advice and resources can be found at www.senecawomen.com.
Our collective experience spans more than fifty years and one hundred countries. We’ve met thousands of women, from British parliamentarians to Afghan peace activists, from the most glamorous cities in the world to war-torn villages. We have met with American combat veterans and women who serve in UN peacekeeping missions, with Supreme Court justices and survivors of brutal acid attacks. And we have found that while the stories have a thousand faces, in the end it is the same story being told over and over again. It’s the story of women and their aspirations for themselves, for their families, and for their communities. It’s the story of how, when given the opportunity, women can fastforward us to the world we all want to see. This is the story we knew we wanted to share.
What we have learned from our research, from our work, and from speaking to these thousands of women, including more than seventy female leaders and some male champions interviewed for this book, is that advancing and investing in women and girls can unlock the potential of countries, companies, and communities. Doing so can also unlock the potential of individual women too, beginning with the recognition of our own power and potential to lift one another up.
In fact, change always starts with individuals — in this case, people who found their purpose in advancing women and girls. And in speaking to these women and men who share our purpose, we have found that despite the diversity of our experiences, one simple approach holds constant. It’s an approach that can also ignite your own potential, transforming the way you think about your life and work. It can be described in three simple steps:
• Know your power.
• Find your purpose.
• Connect with others.
Whether you work in the nonprofit world, log hours as a corporate lawyer, educate the next generation as a teacher, run a business, or raise children full-time — whatever your calling — this approach results in success. It brings success the way we’re defining it: a success that includes not only personal achievement but also meaning, impact, and fulfillment.
As you will see, change often begins with a shift in perspective in one individual, which then ripples through her own life, organization, community, and beyond. And just as women are coming to embrace their own power to effect change, men are also expanding their perspectives, to understand that women are true partners in global progress.
Since 1848 in Seneca Falls, New York, where more than three hundred participants gathered for the first women’s rights convention in the United States, women and men have advocated for women’s equal participation. The progress of history, a wealth of new, evidence-based research, and the imperatives of growth have lent stunning velocity to women’s advancement in just the past few years. What follows is what that unprecedented power shift could mean for countries, companies, and communities, and what it can mean for you.