Who Will Buy Us a Seat At The Table?

Today the seemingly unrelated news of White House Climate Czar, Carol Browner’s departure and the new gender quota at Davos  started me thinking about parity in leadership. One of our primary objectives at The SmartGirls Way is to help women contribute to the new economy by building sustainable businesses. By this we mean a business that a woman can lead with integrity because of its alignment with her values, her community, her life and the planet.

Two topics that greatly influence the idea of sustainable business are environmental stewardship and collaboration within leadership communities.  Social scientists believe that a tremendous change takes place in group dynamics and output when at least 30 percent that group is comprised of women.  It takes the spotlight away from “what the women in the group had to say” and shines it on the real content of the discussion.

Tuesday’s news that Carol Browner would be leaving the Obama Administration is disappointing because for many of us, the appointment of a female Czar was an opportunity to bring new perspectives and a voice to one of the most important issues facing our government.  So while the politicians debate the impact her leaving has on the President’s commitment to his environmental policy, we’re curious, even concerned, about the impact that the remaining women in Washington can have on the tone and ideals going forward.  Have we lost that tipping point where the feminine view becomes more than just an odd voice in the crowd?

And then there’s Davos. The annual leadership event for the global business elite kicks off today in Switzerland with the theme Shared Norms for the New Reality. Does part of that “new reality” include broader representation of women’s views? A new and highly touted gender quota, is supposed to increase the percentage of female participants at Davos to 20 percent by limiting the number of people that accompany a leader from 5 people to 4, unless the fifth delegate is a woman. Some hailed the gender quota is a clever idea that made a diversified attendee list fashionable; apparently 80% of participating companies will have a woman on their delegation. However, a New York Times report on the excessive costs to participate in Davos pushes the price tag for delegation inclusion to over half-a-million dollars per company. At this price, how many companies will chose cutting their delegation to adding a woman? With such a price tag attached, how serious is the commitment to effectively represent half of the world’s population while setting the global agenda?

At the heart of the debate are the cost and losses associated with leadership that lacks gender parity, and it puts this debate squarely on the table. It’s time we quit nibbling at the edges and seriously consider the value of what is missing. As in all things, what gets measured gets done. Begin accounting for the true cost of not having women at the table and real change will rapidly follow.

Tracey Collins a writer and executive coach, specializing in women’s leadership and change.  Her company, Mirror Group Consulting, delivers content, coaching and change management services to clients in Europe and the US.

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