Leaning Back

By SHANNON FARLEY, Spark Executive Director

Women make up 15% of corporate boards and 3% of Fortune 500 CEOs. Many of the women represented in these paltry percentages will be in San Francisco this week for the US State Department’s Women and the Economy Summit in anticipation of the APEC Economic Leaders Meeting in November. The purpose of the summit is to outline policy solutions for access to finance, markets and capital to bolster women’s participation in the economies of the Pacific Rim.

In preparation, we at Spark have been reading up on different solutions to the global gender gap, from sex quotas for corporate boards to increasing women in middle management pipelines. Our research suggests that classic leadership trajectories remain implausible for women. Institutional bias in combination with a lack of role models, mentors and advocates stunt women’s progress at every rung—particularly on the path to the C-Suite. But there is another troubling trend that must be addressed. Women don’t opt out of leadership–we lean back.

A recent Harvard Business Review article unpacked the trend of leaning back in India. Educated female talent can be credited for the growth of India’s economy. Yet, like their American counterparts, when Indian women get married and have children they lean back from leadership opportunities. Some of this has to do with class and some of this has to do with culture, but it doesn’t happen to men when they become husbands and fathers. All over the world, the word woman remains synonymous with caregiver. Until men split care work equitably, we will continue to see women lean back.

Here’s a policy recommendation: Invite men to join in the conversation. 1% of the confirmed speakers for the summit are men.  How can we move the needle when we exclude half the population?

This week, as we discuss economic growth strategies for the Pacific Rim, it is critical to frame of a vision for the global economy that puts class, culture and BOTH genders at the forefront.


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