A vast majority of men and women agree that gender does not play a role in a person’s ability to lead a business. Some 80% of men and women surveyed by Pew said that neither men or women have leadership styles that make them more successful in business. In fact, about a third of adults (31%) said top female executives may be more honest and ethical than male execs.
The issue of the glass ceiling has been with us for sometime now, yet relatively little progress is being made in North America, when it comes to senior executive positions and boards of directors, compared to other countries, where significant progress is being made in gender diversity. At the same time, there is increasing evidence that women actually make better leaders, and are more suited to the style of leadership needed today in organizations.
Gender doesn’t matter to most. A vast majority of men and women agree that gender does not play a role in a person’s ability to lead a business. Some 80% of men and women surveyed by Pew said that neither men or women have leadership styles that make them more successful in business. In fact, about a third of adults (31%) said top female executives may be more honest and ethical than male execs.
Women are even good for business. There are also evident benefits to having more female leaders, according to respondents. About three-in-ten Americans surveyed said that having more women leaders in both business and government would improve the quality of life for women across the country.
Still, few women are reaching the top. Despite these findings, only 25 companies in the Fortune 500 are run by women. There were no female CEOs in the Fortune 500 20 years ago; since, women have made modest progress in obtaining CEO roles. The low number of female CEOs in the Fortune 500 may be due to gendered stereotypes that pervade the workplace. Pew’s survey found that 34% of the respondents believe that male executives are better than women at assuming risk.
It gets worse when you dig deeper. The thinking was similar when Pew asked respondents about specific industries. A significant portion felt that men would do a better job leading technology, oil and gas and finance companies. Perhaps as a result, female Fortune 1000 CEOs are more common in industries like retail and food production.
And few people think it’s easy for women. Despite Pew’s initial finding that gender does not play a role in a person’s ability to lead, most Americans say it is easier for men to get into top positions in business as well as politics. Two-thirds of Americans overall believe men have an advantage and three-quarters of women say men have a better chance.
Bottom line: Corporate America still isn’t ready. Pew’s study shows that men and women may believe female leaders are just as qualified as their male peers, but certain stigmas persist. Even in 2014, some 50% of women and 35% of men agree that many businesses aren’t ready to hire women for top executive positions.
My goal is not to offend every woman and man who reads this… but that may be unavoidable. You see, when I connect new brain research with the hard data on the qualities of women leaders, I come to one inescapable conclusion: we’d all be better off if women ruled the world.
I know that might sound good to women, but there’s a catch. The principle obstacle that stands in your way is not men; it is you… and not for the reason you probably think. But before we get into that…
The three reasons we need women leaders now are:
- The world needs a future of peaceful sustainability, not violent scarcity.
- We need businesses that are focused on value creation, not just wealth creation.
- Women are simply better leaders than men.
I’m not making up that last statement… it appears to be objectively true. A 2012 study of extraordinary leadership by Zenger Folkman revealed that women are superior to men in 15 of 16 leadership competencies. This is not the opinion of academic “experts” but the real-life experience of the bosses, peers, and subordinates women leaders actually work with.
Women in the Workplace: A Research Roundup
We all expect to be judged on our merits at work—to be recognized for our accomplishments and our unique talents, insights, and efforts. But does that actually happen? A variety of recent research by business, psychology, and sociology scholars offers a window into women’s collective experiences in the workplace, confirming some intuitive notions (that men get the better assignments, for instance) and calling others (are women leaving work to care for their children?) into question.
And the Plum Assignment Goes To…
Men get more of the critical assignments that lead to advancement than women do, according to a recent Catalyst study of 1,660 business school graduates, which examined the nature of projects given to high-potential employees. On average the men’s projects had budgets twice as big and three times as many staffers as the women’s. Only 22% of the women, but 30% of the men, were given budgets of more than $10 million, and just 46% of the women, versus 56% of the men, received P&L responsibility. Even more telling, while more than a third of the men reported that their assignments garnered them a great deal of attention from the C-suite, only about a quarter of the women could say the same.
Why Women Really Leave
If high-potential women are leaving their careers to care for their families, they’re not doing it on purpose. That’s the conclusion Hunter College professor Pamela Stone drew from a study of 54 female high achievers, recruited mostly from alumnae of four selective colleges and universities. The women pursued their careers an average of 11 years; 60% worked well past the birth of their second child. None was pushed out. Fully 90% left not to care for their families but because of workplace problems, chiefly frustration and long hours. Two-thirds of those who left tried part-time work but found it problematic; since they’d been putting in long weeks, part-time tended to mean 40 hours of work for 20 hours’ worth of pay. Factoring even more into decisions to opt out entirely, though, was the inability to work part-time without being marginalized.
The Corporate Ladder:
The Ladies Vanish
Data from McKinsey’s most recent survey of 60 major corporations show that both the number and the percentage of women fall off dramatically in the higher ranks of organizations.
That’s Not OK
Would you assign a talented subordinate to a peripheral project and publicize his mistakes to prevent him from receiving too much admiration? How about using a cheaper ingredient known to cause lethal allergic reactions in some people in a product so you could meet a financial projection and get a bonus? These and other ethical dilemmas were considered by 65 women and 38 men recruited at large through Amazon’s Mechanical Turk service. The women displayed far more outrage over these morally questionable decisions—and also thought they made less business sense—than the men in this small but disturbing experiment conducted by Jessica Kennedy of Wharton and Laura Kray from the Haas School of Business.
In a second experiment, Kennedy and Kray presented 84 female and 94 male college students with descriptions of job openings in consulting, private equity, and wealth management. The women were just as keen as the men to pursue those positions—unless the descriptions specified they’d be expected to, say, suppress their advice to collect a fee or fund a company that made its profits through some wholly unethical business practice.
The Nastiness Premium
Whether or not women become less likable as they rise through the ranks, research reveals that being disliked is not the penalty some people think it is. In examining a series of longitudinal studies of U.S. workers, stretching back as far as 1957 and continuing through 2008, Timothy Judge of Notre Dame, Beth Livingston of Cornell, and Charlice Hurst of the Ivey School of Business found that disagreeable people consistently earned more than agreeable people. This was true for both men and women, regardless of occupational status and job responsibility (suggesting that not only disagreeable lawyers and engineers but also disagreeable teachers and social workers earn more than their nicer colleagues). And sadder to say, over time both men and women paid a further wage penalty if they mellowed and became more likable, with those moving from sort-of to really nice paying a higher price than complete jerks who mellowed into mere slimeballs.
You Can’t Win if You Don’t Play
When management professors Matthew Bidwell of Wharton and Roxana Barbulescu of McGill surveyed the students who were beginning an elite one-year international MBA program, they found the women to be as confident as the men of getting a job offer upon graduation—in general management and consulting, but not in finance. That lack of confidence may explain why later surveys of the program’s participants showed that fewer women eventually applied for finance positions. However, the women who did apply were just as likely to get offers as the men. The researchers discovered that for MBAs, the playing field is completely level at the start, concluding: “We find no evidence that women are less likely to receive job offers in any of the fields studied.”
That Persistent Motherhood Penalty
In a classic discrimination experiment, sociology professors Shelley Correll, Stephen Benard, and In Paik asked college students to rate a pair of job applicants after examining information packets that included résumés, personal fact sheets, and notes from screening interviews. After establishing that the application materials presented the candidates as equally qualified, the researchers altered them to indicate that one applicant was a parent. When being considered for the same job, mothers were significantly less likely to be recommended for hire, and when they were, they were offered $11,000 less in starting salary, on average, than childless women. Fathers were not penalized at all. The raters, displaying a clear form of status-based discrimination, revealed that they assumed the mothers to be inherently less competent and less committed.
Status bias could be overcome, Correll and Benard found in a similar follow-up experiment, if the raters were given copies of a performance review showing that a mother had demonstrated a heroic level of commitment to a previous job (by, say, describing her as “one of the most productive employees our division has hired in recent memory”). When that was the case, mothers were not seen as significantly less competent and committed. However, female raters (though, interestingly, not the male ones) judged the mothers to be less likable than the fathers and the childless women, and this normative discrimination produced the same result—fewer offers, less money.
Stacking the Deck:
The latest figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that the largest gaps in wages between men and women are in sales. In insurance, for example, saleswomen make only 62.5% of what their male colleagues earn, in retail just 64.3%, and in real estate only 66%. This is surprising considering that sales pay has long been thought to be less political and more merit-based. But in a study of two large stockbrokerages, Wharton professor Janice Madden found that saleswomen earned less than salesmen because they’d been systematically given inferior accounts that generated smaller commissions and then denied support staff, mentors, and other amenities that would have helped them perform better, suggesting that outright discrimination can be disguised as merit pay.
BS at Work
A host of research points to the insidious effect of benevolent sexism—the view that women are inherently in need of protection and special consideration—on women’s advancement.
When George Mason psychology professor Eden King and five colleagues surveyed energy industry managers, for instance, the women reported receiving less criticism—but also less challenging developmental assignments—than their male counterparts. Similar results from a subsequent study the same team conducted with thousands of managers in England’s National Health Service suggest that rather than a mark of favor, less criticism was a sign of condescension.
A trio of researchers—Monica Biernat of the University of Kansas, consultant M.J. Tocci, and Joan Williams of the Hastings College of the Law—found the same dynamic in their study of performance evaluations at a Wall Street law firm. The women received more positive comments (excellent! stellar! terrific!) than the men, but only 6% of the women (as opposed to 15% of the men) were mentioned as potential partner material, reflecting, the researchers concluded, the application of lower standards to the women and (self-fulfilling) lower expectations.
Are the Best People Being Promoted?
In late 2011 consultants Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman analyzed the 360-degree leadership-effectiveness evaluations of more than 7,280 executives, which had been filled out by their peers, bosses, and subordinates. The analysis revealed that at every management level, the women were rated higher than the men—and the higher the level, the wider the gap. At the same time, the data showed, the higher the level, the higher the proportion of men.
Not only were the women judged to be superior in areas where women are traditionally thought to excel, such as developing others and building relationships, but their ratings were significantly higher, statistically speaking, on 12 of the 16 traits Zenger and Folkman had identified, in more than 30 years of research, as most important to overall leadership effectiveness.
Perhaps the most illuminating thing about this study is that the one thing women aren’t better at than men turns out to be the one thing that’s holding them back… again, more on that in a minute.
So how can this be that women are better leaders than men? Brain scientists believe it’s because women think like Einstein and men think like Newton. Isaac Newton, you may recall, was the father of classical physics. That’s the physics we can “see”—every action has an equal and opposite reaction, every effect has a cause. Take something apart and you can see how it works.
Albert Einstein and Max Planck revealed a physics we “can’t see.” They peered into a world even they didn’t fully understand. Something called quantum reality in which unseen forces interact at a distance and the intention of the observer affects what is observed. The quantum world is the real world—much more real than Newton’s world—and it is mind-boggling. It seems reality is one continuous, interwoven fabric of energy constantly reshaping itself into the world we see. Huh? I know, it doesn’t make logical, nuts-and-bolts sense, and that’s a big reason why women are better designed to lead than men.
It turns out that male brains excel in situations where analytical thinking rules. Newtonian stuff. Men have tons of gray matter. Women, on the other hand, excel at quantum thinking. Synthesis. They have many more of the high-speed interconnecting brain cells known as white matter. Women also have a bigger, faster connection between the left and right sides of their brains, which makes them more agile thinkers. It’s as if women’s brains are all running on 4G LTE while men still have analog flip phones for brains.
Analytical thinking serves very well in a predictable world… a world that can be described on PowerPoint slides. A + B = C. In situations where you can get your hands on all the data, Newton’s logic works like a charm. But that’s not the world we live in. We live in a quantum world where the critical things we need to know are often unknowable, unquantifiable, and unpredictable. Reality is a result of the interactions of a zillion, skillion variables, most of which we don’t control and don’t even see. Therefore, being responsive to reality turns out to be a lot more effective than trying to control it.
This world of endless, invisible connections is much more accessible to an agile female brain than a linear male one. Women’s brains are also more at home working on teams and driving collaborative creativity than Lone Ranger men. And it should come as no surprise that studies reveal the female brain to be much better wired for ethics than the male one.
So how do hierarchical organizations leverage the immense advantage of the female brain?
They unplug it. Disable it.
The September 2013 issue of the Harvard Business Review has published some discouraging research on the plight of women in large businesses. Men are routinely given bigger projects with larger budgets and more staff than women who hold the same role. Men tend to be invited into positions with profit and loss responsibility while women are channeled into staff support roles. When salesmen outperform saleswomen in the same job it is usually because women are given lower-grade accounts or territories, smaller support staffs, and less mentoring. There is also a problem called invisible gender bias: women are given smaller challenges than men and receive less feedback.
The net effect of this patronization of women is fewer opportunities. I have three daughters so all this really pisses me off. Let me tell you what I tell them.
Over the years I’ve had the opportunity to coach many women executives and leaders, and there’s one thing I believe women can do to change the game right now. It revolves around the one competency they score lower on than men. It’s called “strategic perspective.”
It’s not that women don’t have a mind for strategy, it’s that they don’t tend to communicate it with passion. Yet the path to the top in any organization is the ability to talk convincingly about the trends in one’s industry, the economy, technology, and the wider culture, and how these forces will present threats and opportunities. (A woman leader I know who is brilliant at this is Beth Comstock, the chief marketing officer of GE.)
So one thing I suggest to women clients is to always lead the conversation with strategy. This means talking about the “what” and the “why”—what’s important right now and why it is so. (Too often women leaders jump to the how-to-make-things-happen stage. But that’s a project management task. You’ve got to be a leader before you’re a facilitator.)
Here’s another tip: become a radical advocate for the customer and for innovation. Increasingly, organizations are focusing on their customer experience, their social brand, and the collaborative innovation needed to stay ahead of the competition. These are all domains where the female brain is designed to excel. So ring the bell for positive innovation and strive to eliminate any obnoxious practices that are benefiting the company but disengaging customers. This is a great way to leapfrog into leadership.
None of this is easy. Often women’s voices go unheard. In fact, the most common reason capable women leaders leave the workplace is not a lack of work/life balance, it’s because their “return on effort” is too low. My own research reveals that women in the workplace aren’t stressed out because they have too much to dobut because it’s too hard to get things done. And often the reason for this is because they’re marginalized; given too little authority and too few resources to really do paradigm-changing work.
I said at the beginning I was going to put both men and women on edge. Here’s how. I’ve already been critical of male hierarchies that rely too much on linear thinking and disable women’s capacity to lead and excel. Yet I also believe women are their own worst enemy. This is not because of an ability problem but rather anidentity problem. In my years of developing leaders there’s one element that is absolutely critical to success. It is the unshakable belief that one is destined for leadership.
Leading must be an essential part of your identity. The inner belief that you can make a difference and mustmake a difference is what gives you the confidence to lead. Some people call it “executive presence” but what it really comes down to is your inner story of yourself.
Women need to fight to rewrite their inner stories if they wish to lead at the highest levels. This is not easy. Psychological research confirms that women are far more self-critical than men. Women excel in social intelligence but when it comes to emotional intelligence, they tend to exaggerate their inner doubts, their insecurities, and the daily flubs we all make. Men tend to blow things off and project their failures on others while women tend to be over-responsible and to believe they should have been able to control the uncontrollable.
The good news is that all this is solvable… Here are my three steps women can take to leap into leadership.
- Be Calmly Assertive. Strong and even. Never act like a victim or behave as if you are dis-empowered. Don’t worry about being accused of being bitchy or bossy. As long as you remain calm, you can be as strong as you want. (It’s drama that men are afraid of.)
- Always articulate your strategic reasons for your agenda. Tie your work to what’s most important for the entire enterprise. Be clear on your what (your goal) and your why (its importance) and then and press for action.
- Take control of your inner story. You are perfectly designed to lead in this disruptive age. Be committed to the difference you can make.
One researcher recently estimated it would take a hundred years for women to represent the majority of leaders in our major institutions. We don’t have that long. Forget about leaning in. Step up, please! The world needs you now.
Women Leaders at Top
We are currently living under a record-high number of simultanious female world leaders.
For several years now, the stable status quo has been around 20 female world leaders at any given time. For much of 2014, the number was 22 — a record high.
|#||Country||Pic||Leader||In office since:||Notes|
|1||Germany||Chancellor Angela Merkel||Nov. 22, 2005 –||elected|
|2||Liberia||President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf||Jan. 16, 2006 –||elected|
|3||Argentina||President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner||Dec. 10, 2007 –||elected|
|4||Bangledesh||Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed||Jan. 6, 2009 –||elected|
|5||Lithuania||President Dalia Grybauskaite||Jul. 12, 2009 –||elected|
|6||Trinidad and Tobago||Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar||May 26, 2010 –||elected|
|7||Brazil||President Dilma Rousseff||Jan. 1, 2011 –||elected|
|8||Kosovo||President Atifete Jahjaga||Apr. 7, 2011 –||elected|
|9||Denmark||Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt||Oct. 3, 2011 –||elected|
|10||Jamaica||Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller||Jan. 5, 2012 –||elected|
|11||South Korea||President Park Geun-hye||Feb. 25, 2013 –||elected|
|12||Slovenia||Prime Minister Alenka Bratusek||Mar. 20, 2013 –||elected|
|13||Cyprus (North)||Prime Minister Sibel Siber||Jun. 13, 2013 –||appointed|
|14||Senegal||Prime Minister Aminata Touré||Sep. 3, 2013 –||appointed|
|15||Norway||Prime Minister Erna Solberg||Oct. 16, 2013 –||elected|
|16||Latvia||Prime Minister Laimdota Straujuma||Jan. 22, 2014 –||elected|
|17||Central African Republic||President Catherine Samba-Panza||Jan. 23, 2014 –||appointed|
|18||Chile||President Michelle Bachelet||Mar. 11, 2014 –||elected|
|19||Malta||President Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca||Apr. 7, 2014 –||elected|
|20||Poland||Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz||Apr. 7, 2014 –||elected|
|21||Switzerland||President Simonetta Sommaruga||Jan. 1, 2015 –||appointed|
|22||Croatia||President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic||Feb. 18, 2015 –||elected|
“Elected” refers to women leaders who were elected in democratic elections, including both direct election and parliamentary election.
“Succeeded” refers to leaders who automatically assumed their position following the resignation or impeachment of a predecessor, and were thus not specifically elected to their post.
“Appointed” refers to leaders who were appointed to office by a ruling party or executive, and were thus not specifically elected to their post.
“Coup” refers to a leader who staged a coup or revolution to take office through force.
Sometimes leaders who were originally appointed to office managed to win election. In such cases both dates are noted.
NOTE: the “head of state” issue
In colloquial speech, a “head of state” is simply a world leader; be she a president, a prime minister, a ruling monarch, or in rare cases, some other office entirely. However, political scientists — and indeed, many national constitutions — define this term in a more narrow sense, with the “head of state” being the person who symbolically “embodies” the nation as its highest legal authority and highest-ranking ceremonial representative. A person who actually “runs” the government, in contrast, is called the “head of government.” In many countries, the head of state and head of government is the same person, but in many other countries, the “head of state” is a symbolic president or monarch while the prime minister is the “head of government.”
Identifying “heads of state” in this sense is a complicated matter I am not interested in here. Let it merely be noted that the women listed below consist simply of people who could be accurately described as “world leaders” of one sort or another, but some might regard it as technically incorrect to describe them as all “heads of state.”
Queens or Vice-Regal Females in power
A few countries have reining female queens, or, if they are a member of the British Commonwealth, a female governor general representing Queen Elizabeth as head of state. As they are merely symbolic figureheads chosen to represent the actual head of state, they are not usually counted as “full” world leaders.
|#||Country||Leader||In office since:|
|1||United Kingdom||Queen Elizabeth II||Feb. 6, 1952 –|
|2||Denmark||Queen Margethe II||Jan. 14, 1972 –|
|4||Saint Lucia||Governor-General Dame Pearlette Louisy||Sep. 17, 1997 –|
|5||Australia||Governor-General Quentin Bryce||Sep. 5, 2008 –|
All countries with female presidents, past and present
A president is either the executive leader of a country, or a ceremonial figurehead chosen to “represent the nation” but not exercise any real political power.
|Argentina (1st time)||President Isabel Peron||Jul. 1, 1974 – Mar. 24, 1976||succeeded, wife|
|Iceland||President Vigdís Finnbogadóttir||Aug. 1, 1980 – Jul. 31, 1996||elected|
|Malta (1st time)||President Agatha Barbara||Feb. 15, 1982 – Feb. 15, 1987||elected|
|Philippines (1st time)||President Corazon Aquino||Feb. 25, 1986 – Jun. 30, 1992||elected, wife*|
|Nicaragua||President Violeta de Chamorro||Apr. 25, 1990 – Jan. 10, 1997||elected|
|Ireland (1st time)||President Mary Robinson||Dec, 3, 1990 – Sep. 12, 1997||elected|
|Sri Lanka||President Chandrika Kumaratunga||Nov. 12, 1994 – Nov. 19, 2005||elected, daughter|
|Ireland (2nd time)||President Mary McAleese||Nov. 11, 1997 – Nov. 11, 2011||elected|
|Guyana||President Janet Jagan||Dec. 19, 1997 – Aug. 11, 1999||elected, wife|
|Switzerland (1st time)||President Ruth Dreifuss||Jan. 1, 1999 – Dec. 31, 1999||appointed|
|Latvia||President Vaira Vike-Freiberga||Jul. 8, 1999 – Jul. 8, 2007||elected|
|Panama||President Mireya Moscoso||Sep. 1, 1999 – Sep. 1, 2004||elected, wife|
|Finland||President Tarja Halonen||Mar. 1, 2000 –||elected|
|Philippines (2nd time)||President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo||Jan. 20, 2001 – June 30, 2010||succeeded 2001, elected 2004, daughter|
|Indonesia||President Megawati Sukarnoputri||Jul. 23, 2001 – Oct. 20, 2004||succeeded, daughter|
|Serbia||President Natasa Micic||Dec. 30, 2002 – Jan. 27, 2004||appointed|
|Liberia||President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf||Jan. 16, 2006 –||elected|
|Chile||President Michelle Bachelet||Mar. 11, 2006 – Mar. 11, 2010||elected|
|Switzerland (2nd time)||President Micheline Calmy-Rey||Jan. 1, 2007 – Dec. 31, 2007||appointed|
|Bosnia & Herzegovina||President Borjana Kristo||Feb. 22, 2007 – Mar. 17, 2011||elected|
|India||President Pratibha Patil||Jul. 25, 2007 – Jul. 25, 2012||elected|
|Argentina (2nd time)||President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner||Dec. 10, 2007 –||elected, wife|
|Lithuania||President Dalia Grybauskaite||Jul. 12, 2009 –||elected|
|Switzerland (3rd time)||President Doris Leuthard||Jan. 1, 2010 – Dec. 31, 2011||appointed|
|Kyrgyzstan||President Rosa Otunbayeva||Apr. 7, 2010 – Dec. 1, 2011||coup|
|Costa Rica||President Laura Chinchilla||May 8, 2010 – May 8, 2014||elected|
|Brazil||President Dilma Rousseff||Jan. 1, 2011 –||elected|
|Switzerland (4th time)||President Micheline Calmy-Rey||Jan. 1, 2011 – Dec. 31, 2011||appointed|
|Switzerland (5th time)||President Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf||Jan. 1, 2012 – Dec. 31, 2013||appointed|
|Malawi||President Joyce Banda||Apr. 7, 2012 – May 31, 2014||succeeded|
|South Korea||President Park Geun-hye||Feb. 25, 2013 –||elected, daughter|
|Central African Republic||President Catherine Samba-Panza||Jan. 23, 2014 –||appointed|
|Chile (2nd time)||President Michelle Bachelet||Mar. 11, 2014 –||elected|
|Malta (2nd time)||President Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca||Apr. 7, 2014 –||elected|
|Switzerland (6th time)||President Simonetta Sommaruga||Jan. 1, 2015 –||appointed|
|Croatia||President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic||Feb. 18, 2015 –||elected|
“Wife” indicates leaders whose husband was also president at one time.
“Daughter” indicates leaders whose father was also president at one time.
* though not a wife of a president, Ms. Aquino’s political career was largely the result of her marriage to a very prominent senator, who was later assasinated. Her son, interestingly, would also later serve as president.
Less than a year in power (acting, interim leaders, etc)
The following female leaders all assumed office on some sort of interim basis and cannot be properly regarded as a “full” president. They often held the presidency while simultaniously holding some other office of government, usually speaker of parliament..
|Mongolia||President Sükhbaataryn Yanjmaa||Sep. 23, 1953 – Jul. 7, 1954|
|Bolivia||President Lydia Gueiler Tejada||Nov. 17, 1980 – Jul. 18, 1980|
|Guinea-Bissau||President Carmen Pereira||May 14, 1984 – May 16, 1984|
|Haiti||President Ertha Pascal-Trouillot||Mar. 13, 1990 – Jan. 7, 1991|
|East Germany||President Sabine Bergmann-Pohl||Apr. 5, 1990 – Oct. 2, 1990|
|Liberia||President Ruth Perry||Sep. 3, 1996 – Aug. 2, 1997|
|Ecuador||President Rosalía Arteaga Serrano||Feb. 9, 1997 – Feb. 11, 1997|
|Georgia (1st time)||President Nino Burjanadz||Nov. 23, 2003 – Jan. 25, 2004|
|Georgia (2nd time)||President Nino Burjanadz||Nov. 25, 2007 – Jan. 20, 2008|
|Israel||President Dalia Itzik||Jan. 25, 2007 – Jul. 15, 2007|
|South Africa||President Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri||Sep. 25, 2008|
|Gabon||President Rose Francine Rogombé||Jun. 10, 2009 – Oct. 16, 2009|
|Mauritius||President Monique Ohsan-Bellepeau||Mar. 31, 2012 – Jul. 21. 2012|
|Serbia||President Slavica Djukic Dejanovic||Apr. 4, 2012 – May 31, 2012|
All countries with female prime ministers, past and present
A prime minister is, in most circumstances, the leader of the national parliament. How much power she exercises can vary greatly based on the country, and how strong the president (or in some cases, monarch) that sits above her is.
|Sri Lanka (1st time)||Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike||Jul. 21, 1960 – Mar. 27, 1965||elected, wife|
|India (1st time)||Prime Minister Indira Gandhi||Jan. 19, 1966 – Mar. 24, 1977||elected, daughter|
|Israel||Prime Minister Golda Meir||Mar. 17, 1969 – Jun. 3, 1974||appointed 1969, elected 1971|
|Sri Lanka (2nd time)||Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike||May 29, 1970 – Jul. 23, 1977||“|
|Central African Republic||Prime Minister Elisabeth Domitien||Jan. 2, 1975 – Apr. 7, 1976||appointed*|
|United Kingdom||Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher||May 4, 1979 – Nov. 28, 1990||elected|
|India (2nd time)||Prime Minister Indira Gandhi||Jan. 14, 1980 – Oct. 31, 1984||“|
|Dominica||Prime Minister Dame Eugenia Charles||Jul. 21, 1980 – Jun. 14, 1995||elected|
|Norway (1st time)||Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland||Feb. 4, 1981 – Oct. 14, 1981||elected|
|Yugoslavia||Prime Minister Milka Planinc||May 16, 1982 – May 15, 1986||appointed*|
|Norway (2nd time)||Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland||May 9, 1986 – Oct. 16, 1989||“|
|Pakistan (1st time)||Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto||Dec. 2, 1988 – Aug. 6, 1990||elected, daughter|
|Norway (3rd time)||Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland||Nov. 3, 1990 – Oct. 25, 1996||“|
|Bangledesh (1st time)||Prime Minister Khaleda Zia||Mar. 20, 1991 – Mar. 30, 1996||elected, daughter|
|Poland||Prime Minister Hanna Suchocka||Jul. 8, 1992 – Oct. 26, 1993||appointed|
|Turkey||Prime Minister Tansu Çiller||Jun. 25, 1992 – Mar. 6, 1996||appointed|
|Pakistan (2nd time)||Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto||Oct. 19, 1993 – Nov. 5, 1996||“|
|Sri Lanka (3rd time)||Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike||Nov. 14, 1994 – Aug. 10, 2000||“|
|New Zealand (1st time)||Prime Minister Jenny Shippley||Dec. 8, 1997 – Dec. 10, 1999||appointed|
|New Zealand (2nd time)||Prime Minister Helen Clark||Dec. 10, 1999 – Nov. 19, 2008||elected|
|Senegal (1st time)||Prime Minister Mame Madior Boye||Mar. 2, 2001 – Nov. 4, 2002||appointed|
|Bangledesh (2nd time)||Prime Minister Khaleda Zia||Oct. 10, 2001 – Oct. 29. 2006||“|
|São Tomé and Príncipe||Prime Minister Maria das Neves||Oct. 7, 2002 – Sep. 18, 2004||appointed|
|Mozambique||Prime Minister Luísa Diogo||Feb. 17, 2004 – Jan. 16, 2010||appointed 2004, elected 2009|
|Ukraine (1st time)||Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko||Jan. 24, 2005 – Sep. 8, 2005||elected|
|Germany||Chancellor Angela Merkel||Nov. 22, 2005 –||elected|
|Jamaica||Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller||Mar. 30, 2006 – Sep. 11, 2007||appointed|
|South Korea||Prime Minister Han Myung Sook||Ap. 19, 2006 – Mar. 7, 2007||appointed|
|Ukraine (2nd time)||Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko||Dec. 18, 2007 – Mar. 11, 2010||“|
|Haiti (2nd time)||Prime Minister Michèle Pierre-Louis||Sep. 5, 2008 – Nov. 11, 2009||appointed|
|Bangledesh||Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed||Jan. 6, 2009 –||elected|
|Iceland||Prime Minister Jóhanna Sigurdardóttir||Feb. 1, 2009 – May 23, 2013||appointed 2009, elected 2009|
|Croatia||Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor||Jul. 6, 2009 – Dec. 2011||appointed|
|Trinidad and Tobago||Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar||May 26, 2010 –||elected|
|Australia||Prime Minister Julia Gillard||Jun. 24, 2010 – Jun. 27, 2013||appointed 2010, elected 2010|
|Finland||Prime Minister Mari Kiviniemi||Jun. 22, 2010 – Jun. 22, 2011||appointed|
|Slovakia||Prime Minister Iveta Radicová||Jul. 8, 2010 – Apr. 4, 2012||elected|
|Thailand||Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra||Aug. 8, 2011 – May 7, 2014||elected|
|Denmark||Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt||Oct. 3, 2011 –||elected|
|Jamaica (2nd time)||Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller||Jan. 5, 2012 –||elected|
|Slovenia||Prime Minister Alenka Bratusek||Mar. 20, 2013 – Sep. 18, 2014||elected|
|Norway (3rd time)||Prime Minister Erna Solberg||Oct. 16, 2013 –||elected|
|Latvia||Prime Minister Laimdota Straujuma||Jan. 22, 2014 –||elected|
Less than a year in power (acting, interim leaders, etc)
|Portugal||Prime Minister Maria de Lurdes Pintassilgo||Aug. 1, 1979 – Jan. 3, 1980|
|Lithuania (1st time)||Prime Minister Kazimiera Prunskien||Mar. 17, 1990 – Jan. 10, 1991|
|France||Prime Minister Edith Cresson||May 15, 1991 – Apr. 2, 1992|
|Burundi||Prime Minister Sylvie Kinigi||Jul. 10, 1993 – Feb. 7, 1994|
|Canada||Prime Minister Kim Campbell||Jun. 25, 1993 – Nov. 4, 1993|
|Rwanda||Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana||Jul. 18, 1993 – Apr. 7, 1994|
|Bulgaria||Prime Minister Reneta Indzhova||Oct. 17, 1994 – Jan. 25, 1995|
|Sri Lanka||Prime Minister Chandrika Kumaratunga||Aug. 19, 1994 – Nov. 12, 1994|
|Haiti||Prime Minister Claudette Werleigh||Nov. 7, 1995 – Mar. 6, 1996|
|Guyana||Prime Minister Janet Jagan||Mar. 17, 1997 – Dec. 22, 1997|
|Lithuania (2nd time)||Prime Minister Irena Degutiene||May 4, 1999 – May 18, 1999|
|Lithuania (3rd time)||Prime Minister Irena Degutiene||Oct. 27, 1999 – Nov. 3, 1999|
|Mongolia||Prime Minister Nyam-Osoryn Tuyaa||Jul. 22, 1999 – Jul. 30, 1999|
|South Korea||Prime Minister Chang Sang||Jul. 11, 2002 – Jul. 31, 2002|
|Finland||Prime Minister Anneli Jäätteenmäki||Apr. 17, 2003 – Jun. 24, 2003|
|Peru (1st time)||Prime Minister Beatriz Merino||June 28, 2003 – Dec. 15, 2003|
|Macedonia (1st time)||Prime Minister Radmila Sekerinska||May 12, 2004 – Jun. 2, 2004|
|Macedonia (2nd time)||Prime Minister Radmila Sekerinska||Nov. 18, 2004 – Dec. 17, 2004|
|São Tomé and Príncipe||Prime Minister Maria do Carmo Silveira||Jun. 8, 2005 – Apr. 21, 2006|
|Moldova||Prime Minister Zinaida Greceanîi||Mar. 31, 2008 – Sep. 14, 2009|
|Madagascar||Prime Minister Cécile Manorohanta||Dec. 18, 2009 – Dec. 20, 2009|
|Peru (2nd time)||Prime Minister Rosario Fernández||Mar. 19, 2011 – Jul. 28, 2011|
|Mali||Prime Minister Cissé Mariam Kaïdama Sidibé||Apr. 3, 2011 – March 22, 2012|
|Cyprus (North)||Prime Minister Sibel Siber||Jun. 13, 2013 – Sep. 2, 2013|
|Senegal (2nd time)||Prime Minister Aminata Touré||Sep. 3, 2013 – Jul. 14, 2014|
All countries with female governor-generals
In a Commonwealth country, a governor general is a politician appointed by the prime minister to serve as “acting” head of state on behalf of the British monarch, the legal chief of state.
|Canada (1st time)||Governor-General Jeanne Sauvé||May 14, 1984 – Jan. 29, 1990|
|Barbados||Governor-General Dame Nita Barrow||Jun. 6, 1990 – Dec. 19, 1995|
|New Zealand (1st time)||Governor-General Dame Catherine Tizard||Nov. 20, 1990 – Mar. 21, 1996|
|Saint Lucia||Governor-General Dame Pearlette Louisy||Sep. 17, 1997 –|
|Canada (2nd time)||Governor-General Adrienne Clarkson||Oct. 7, 1999 – Sep. 27, 2005|
|New Zealand (2nd time)||Governor-General Dame Silvia Cartwright||Apr. 4, 2001 – Aug. 23, 2006|
|Bahamas||Governor-General Dame Ivy Dumont||Nov. 13, 2001 – Nov. 25, 2005|
|Canada (3rd time)||Governor-General Michaelle Jean||Sep. 27, 2005 – Oct. 1, 2010|
|Antigua and Barbuda||Governor-General Dame Louise Lake-Tack||Jul. 17, 2007 – Aug. 13, 2004|
|Australia||Governor-General Quentin Bryce||Sep. 5, 2008 – Mar. 28, 2014|
Historic female monarchs
Historically speaking, the principle of heritary monarchism has tended to supercede the principle of gender discrimantion, meaning even very sexually regressive socieites have allowed female monarchs to rule them from time to time, if that’s how the monarchical birth lottery goes. Here are all the historic female monarchs of countries that still exist in some form today.
|Denmark (1st time)||Lady Margrethe I||Aug. 10, 1387 – Jan. 23, 1396|
|Portugal (1st time)||Queen Beatrix||Oct. 22, 1383 – Apr. 6, 1385|
|Spain (1st time)||Queen Isabella I of Castile
||Dec. 11, 1474 – Nov. 26, 1504|
|Spain (2nd time)||Queen Juana the Mad||Nov. 26, 1504 – Apr. 12, 1555|
|England (1st time)||Lady Jane Grey||Jul. 6, 1553 – Jul. 19, 1553|
|England (2nd time)||“Bloody” Mary||Jul. 19, 1553 – Nov. 17, 1558|
|England (3rd time)||Queen Elizabeth I||Nov. 17, 1558 – Mar. 24, 1603|
|Sweden (1st time)||Queen Christina||Nov. 16, 1632 – Jun. 16, 1654|
|England (4th time)||Queen Mary II||Feb. 23, 1689 – Jan. 7, 1695|
|England (4th time)||Queen Anne||Mar. 19, 1702 – Aug. 12, 1714|
|Sweden (2nd time)||Ulrica Eleonora||Feb. 2, 1719 – Apr. 4, 1720|
|Russia (2nd time)||Tsar Catherine I||Feb. 8 1725 – May 17, 1727|
|Russia (3rd time)||Tsar Anna Ivovna||Feb. 13, 1730 – Oct. 28, 1740|
|Russia (4th time)||Tsar Elizabeth Petrovna||Dec. 6, 1741 – Jan. 5, 1762|
|Russia (5th time)||Tsar Catherine II the Great||Jul. 8, 1762 – Nov. 17, 1796|
|Portugal and Brazil(2nd time)||Queen Maria||Feb. 24, 1777 – Mar. 20, 1816|
|Portgual (3rd time)||Queen Maria II the Great||Mar. 3, 1828 – Nov. 15, 1853|
|England (5th time)||Queen Empress Victoria the Good||Jun. 20, 1837 – Jan. 22, 1901|
|China||Empress Dowager Cixi||Feb. 25, 1875 – Mar. 4, 1889|
|Netherlands (1st time)||Queen Regent Emma||Dec. 8, 1890 – Aug. 31, 1898|
|Netherlands (2nd time)||Queen Wilhelmina||Aug. 31, 1898 – Sep. 4, 1948|
|Luxembourg (1st time)||Grand Duchess Marie-Adélaïde||Feb. 25, 1912 – Jan. 15, 1919|
|Luxembourg (2nd time)||Grand Duchess Charlotte||Jan. 15, 1919 – Nov. 12, 1964|
|Netherlands (3rd time)||Queen Juliana||Sep. 4, 1948 – Apr. 30, 1980|
|Netherlands (4th time)||Queen Beatrix||Apr. 30, 1980 – Apr. 30, 2013|
Switzerland has one of the world’s most unusual political systems, with the nation’s highest political authority vested in a “federal council” comprised of seven members of parliament. The chair of the council serves as president of Switzerland, but the position rotates every year. Since the federal council always contains at least one women, Switzerland has a higher than one-in-seven chance of having a female president in any given year, which explains Switzerland’s unusually high tally in this regard.
The tiny European nation of San Marino elects two members of parliament to serve as “campaigns regent” for a six-month term. San Marino law (the nation has no constitution) declares that these captains serve “jointly” as head of state. Maria Lea Pedini Angelini served as San Marino’s first female captain regent in 1981; since then there have been 15 others. I have elected not to include a full list of San Marino’s post-1981 female captains partially ensure this most unusual of offices in this most minuscule of nations does not clutter the lists above.
Countries that have had more than one female leader (includes acting, interim leaders etc)
|Switzerland (6)||Six presidents*|
|Sri Lanka (3)||One president, two prime ministers|
|Haiti (3)||One president, two prime ministers|
|Finland (3)||One president, two prime ministers|
|South Korea (3)||Two prime ministers, one president|
|Lithuania (3)||One president, two prime ministers|
|Argentina (2)||Two presidents|
|Bangledesh (2)||Two prime ministers|
|Central African Republic (2)||One president, one prime minister|
|Guyana (2)||One president, one prime minister*|
|Iceland (2)||One president, one prime minister|
|India (2)||One president, one prime minister|
|Ireland (2)||Two presidents|
|Israel (2)||One president, one prime minister|
|Liberia (2)||Two presidents|
|Philippines (2)||Two presidents|
|New Zealand (2)||Two prime ministers|
|São Tomé and Príncipe (2)||Two prime ministers|
|Sengal (2)||Two prime ministers|
*Switzerland has seen six female presidential terms, though two of those were held by the same woman. Guyana’s tally is also debatable, since their female prime minister and female president were the same person.
|Sükhbaataryn Yanjmaa of Mongolia (1953-1954)||World’s first female (acting) president|
|Sirimavo Bandaranaike of Sri Lanka (1960-1965)||World’s first female prime minister|
|Isabel Peron of Argentina (1974-1976)||World’s first female (non-acting) president|
|Margaret Thatcher of the United Kingdom (1979-1990)||World’s first female prime minister who was elected without being either an incumbent or a relative of a male leader.|
|Vigdís Finnbogadóttir of Iceland (1980-1996)||World’s first female elected president, and first female president who was elected without being either an incumbent or a relative of a male leader.|
|Mary McAleese of Ireland (1997- 2011)||First time that a female president directly succeed another female president.|
|Sri Lanka (1994-2000)||First time that a nation possessed a female prime minister and a female president simultaneously. Sri Lanka in 1994 also marked the first time a female prime minister directly succeeded another female prime minister.|
|Jóhanna Sigurdardóttir of Iceland (2009-2013)||World’s first lesbian world leader, first female world leader to wed a same-sex partner while in office.|
History’s most important female world leaders
|Prime Minister Golda Meir of Israel (1969-1974)
b. 1898 – d. 1978
|Prime Minister Indira Gandhi of India (1966-1977, 1980-1984)
b. 1917 – d. 1984
|Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher of the United Kingdom(1979-1990)
b. 1925 – d. 2013
|President Corazon Aquino of the Philippines (1986-1992)
b. 1933 – d. 2009
|Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan(1988-1990, 1993-1996)
b. 1953 – d. 2007
|Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany(2005- )
|President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia (2006 – )
Has there ever been a female dictator?
Most observers would probably say no, though it does depend somewhat on how you define “dictator.” There has certainly never been a female equivalent of someone like Saddam Hussein or Kim Jong Il, which is to say, an all-powerful tyrant who led a totalitarian regime of extreme murder and oppression. There have been, however, a few women who served as prime ministers in undemocratic regimes, came to power through undemocratic means, or ran governments that can be fairly described as “authoritarian.”
Élisabeth Domitién (1925-2005) served as prime minister of the Central African Republic for little over a year under the government of President Jean-Bédel Bokassa. Bokassa — who would later declare himself emperor — was a mad and eccentric tyrant often considered one of Africa’s worst dictators, and is associated with many horrific human rights abuses. Prime Minister Domitién was certainly aware of these, but the prime minister’s office was extraordinarily weak under Bokassa, so it is probably unfair to consider her too culpable in his crimes — particularly given her short tenure.
Milka Planinc (1924-2010) served as prime minister of Yugoslavia from 1982 to 1986, at a time when it was still a Communist republic. Following the death of longtime dictator Joseph Broz Tito in 1980, the presidency of Yugoslavia reverted back to a collective, with a chairmanship that rotated every year. This increased the power of the prime ministership, and Planinc was unquestionably the most powerful politician in the country during this time. Her regime was moderate, but committed to the Communist system. It would be fair to consider her a dictator, if perhaps not a particularly flashy one.
Biljana Plavsi (b. 1930) became president of the Serb Republic within the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1996. Bosnia and Herzegovina had declared itself independent from Yugoslavia in 1992, and the Serb Republic was declared around the same time. The Republic’s first president was the infamous Radovan Karadzic, who waged a vicious war of “ethnic cleansing” against non-Serbs in the region. When he was forced to resign amid western pressure in 1996, Vice President Plavsi took over, and largely continued her predecessors’ brutal policies. Both were eventually charged with crimes against humanity. Though Plavsi is perhaps the most infamous female politician of modern times, her regime was at least nominally democratic. The Bosnian “Serb Republic” (not to be confused with the Republic of Serbia) is also not a sovereign country, though it considered itself independent during the Yugoslav civil war.
Sabine Bergmann-Pohl (b. 1946) in her capacity as head of the East German parliament, served the final, acting head of state of Communist East Germany for a few months in 1990 at a time when the country was in the process of being incorporated into West Germany. Though she was nominally in charge of a Communist regime, her caretaker rule was too short and transient to be seriously considered here.
Rosa Otunbayeva (b. 1950) became president of Kyrgyzstan in the spring of 2010, following an uprising against dictator Kurmanbek Bakiev. Though characterized as a “revolution,” like most revolutions it was in practice a coup, with Bakiev being driven from the capital during a state of violent chaos. Otunbayeva, the former foreign minister, declared herself head of a transitory regime, and she made good on the promise, helping introduce a more democratic constitution that lessened the power of the presidency. She resigned in December of 2011.
Indira Gandhi (1917-1984) served two non-consecutive terms as prime minister of India that overlapped significant portions of the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. Though India is a parliamentary democracy with constitutionally-protected civil rights, in 1975 Gandhi took advantage of a worsening political climate to declared a state of emergency that gave her office sweeping powers to crackdown on dissent, including the censorship of media and the arrest of political opponents. Many consider India’s “emergency rule” phase to be akin to a sort of dictatorship, though it is worth noting that public backlash to the move resulted in it eventually being lifted, and Gandhi was voted out of office and arrested shortly thereafter.
Light pink– acting heads of government / state, Dark pink– full-term heads of state / government
World’s 10 most populous nations and female leader status:
Fewer women run big companies than men named John. Women hold only around a fifth of seats in national parliaments around the world, and the gender gap at workwon’t close for another 81 years.It’s tough to be optimistic ahead of this year’s International Women’s Day celebrated recently. But change is happening, and not just in the conventional corridors of power. In fact, the nature of power in itself is changing, becoming less top-down, less institutional and less predictable.
While everyone is familiar with the female leaders who generate headlines at Davos – inspiring women like Angela Merkel, Christine Lagarde and Sheryl Sandberg – you might be less aware of the other exceptional women involved with the World Economic Forum’s work. From an astronaut to an executive campaigning for gay rights at work, from scientists to social entrepreneurs, these women are challenging what is expected of their gender and changing the world around them for the better.
Muna AbuSulayman, TV anchor, Co-founder of Meedan.com
Saudi Arabia’s Muna AbuSulayman is best known for founding and co-hosting Kalam Nawaem, one of the Arab world’s most popular TV shows. A one-hour show hosted exclusively by women, Kalam Nawaem is credited with pushing social boundaries on Arab television, discussing controversial topics such as homosexuality, gender equality, sexual harassment and divorce. AbuSulayman’s activities are not limited to the TV screen. In 2007, she was appointed the first Saudi UNDP Goodwill Ambassador. Currently head of directions and a partner in Glowork – a website for Saudi women to find employment – she is a committed advocate for gender equality. She has also championed projects and fundraising for refugees.
A lot has been accomplished to close the gap in gender inequality, a lot of research has been carried out to look at how stereotypes still operate on an almost subconscious level. Yet women still lag behind in income parity, opportunities for promotion and the ability to tap into government resources to balance home and work duties. I look forward to the day when all those issues are no longer topics of conversation, seminars and studies.
Beth Brooke-Marciniak, Global Vice-Chair of Public Policy at EY
Beth Brooke-Marciniak climbed the corporate ladder while aware of being “different”, as a woman, an introvert and as someone who kept her sexual orientation hidden. After coming out in 2011, EY’s global vice-chair for public policy says she has become a better leader. Over the past four years, she has increasingly used her position to raise awareness of LGBT issues in business. This year she spoke at the World Economic Forum in Davos about diversity and gay rights, and she chairs the executive panel to unify EY’s LGBT networks globally. Last year, Brooke-Marciniak was among OUTstanding’s top 100 LGBT leaders, and Forbes has named her among its “World’s 100 Most Powerful Women” seven times.
In a recent EY survey, men identified unconscious bias as the number one barrier to women’s advancement. That’s a great starting point. If men know it’s a problem, we can all start to deal with it. We need men and women working together to eradicate workplace bias, creating flexibility in the workplace for men and women so both can share the burdens of home, providing clear opportunities for women to advance and sponsoring them to do so. The evidence is clear that promoting women produces higher GDP, improves productivity and business outcomes. So now, it’s about taking action. I, for one, won’t wait. Neither should you.
Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of Oxfam International
Winnie Byanyima was 18 when she arrived in Britain, having fled Idi Amin’s regime. She trained as an aeronautical engineer there and returned to Uganda after the fall of Amin. Democratic elections were hijacked, however, which led her to join a new struggle for liberation under the leadership of the current Ugandan president, Yoweri Museveni. She served 11 years in the Ugandan parliament, championing groundbreaking gender equality laws and multi-party democracy. She has served as director of gender and development at the African Union Commission and the United Nations Development Program. She co-founded the 60-member Global Gender and Climate Alliance and chaired UN task forces on gender aspects of the Millennium Development Goals, and climate change. Now head of Oxfam International, she is a recognized leader on women’s rights, democratic governance and peace-building, and has played a major role in putting inequality on the world agenda.
The untapped potential of women across the world in every walk of life is a priority that requires our urgent attention. The fact is, women still bear the biggest burden of poverty and most people living in poverty are women. We know why and how excluding women impacts societies and economies, and much is being done, by Oxfam and others, to advance women’s well-being and expand their roles as political, economic, family and social leaders. But to make gender equality happen, a concerted focus on legal reform and ending violence against women is needed, and though this is happening, more needs to be done and quickly for the benefit of all; women and men, girls and boys.
Krista Donaldson, CEO of D-Rev
Since 2009, Krista Donaldson has been CEO of D-Rev, a not-for-profit based in Silicon Valley that brings medical devices to people living on less than $4 a day. The aim is to design first-rate medical equipment better suited to developing countries, then license it to for-profit distributors in those areas. Under her leadership, D-Rev has led the design and scaling in emerging markets of Brilliance, an affordable treatment for babies with jaundice, and the ReMotion prosthetic knee, now worn by over 5,500 amputees. She has been recognized by Fast Company as one of the 50 designers shaping the future, and the World Economic Forum as a Technology Pioneer.
I’d like to see a broader view when we talk about women in the workforce – I’ve seen a lot of talk focused on women in technology or women in the corporate sector. Too often this conversation is skewed by prioritization of corporate jobs over other sectors. If we want to build a better world, we need to build better equality and diversity in every sector. I work in the social sector and I’m surrounded by female peers who have long leaned in, excelled in their careers – are literally changing the world and how society thinks. Where I see the biggest opportunity for growth is in redefining leadership and success.
Jennifer Doudna, Professor of Chemistry and of Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of California, Berkeley
Jennifer Doudna grew up in Hawaii and got her first taste of scientific research working in a lab with a family friend in the summer before college. The bug bit, and Doudna went on to become a molecular and cell biology professor at the University of California, Berkeley. In 2012 she and collaborator Emmanuelle Charpentier engineered a simple, inexpensive and broadly effective technology for changing or correcting DNA sequences within cells. This technology, called CRISPR-Cas9, harnesses a bacterial adaptive immune system as a powerful tool for editing DNA sequences, similar to editing the text of a document. The CRISPR-Cas9 system could one day be used to treat a range of hereditary disorders such as sickle cell anaemia, cystic fibrosis and Huntington’s disease. Doudna was one of six scientists awarded the 2015 Breakthrough Prizes in Life Sciences, which honours transformative advances towards understanding living systems and extending human life.
On a recent visit to a seventh-grade classroom, I was inspired by the eager faces of girls and boys who share a passion for the joy of discovery and the sleuthing that is science. I am working to foster a scientific community that welcomes all people to participate in the research endeavour.
Angélica Fuentes, CEO of Omnilife
Angélica Fuentes is one of Latin America’s most prominent businesswomen. She is CEO and managing shareholder of the global nutrition company Omnilife. Fuentes also founded and leads Angelíssima, a cosmetics company which recruits armies of entrepreneurial saleswomen, offering them the chance to gain financial independence. As a philanthropist, she launched the Angélica Fuentes Foundation last year, with a $3 million endowment to promote the empowerment of Latin American women and girls. She serves as one of two Global Advocates for the United Nations Foundation´s Girl Up campaign and as a co-chair of the Mexico Gender Parity Taskforce, a World Economic Forum initiative. She is co-chair of the World Economic Forum’s Latin America meeting in May 2015, which will be hosted in Mexico.
In today’s global economy, gender equality is a key driver of competitiveness, innovation and productivity. Investing in women and girls in Latin America can change the future of our region.
Terry Jester, CEO of Silicor Materials
Terry Jester, a 35-year veteran of the solar industry, joined Silicor Materials in 2010 having been actively involved in the company as entrepreneur in residence at one of its financial backers, Hudson Clean Energy. Silicor Materials is notable for having developed a new way of manufacturing solar silicon at roughly half the production cost of traditional methods. It produces the most environmentally friendly solar silicon in the industry, requiring up to two-thirds less energy than competing methods and using no hazardous chemicals. A mechanical engineer, Jester has managed large solar operations and held engineering positions at SoloPower, SunPower, SolarWorld, Siemens, Arco and Shell. She participated in the 2015 World Economic Forum in Davos, speaking on “Energy Innovations with the Technology Pioneers.”
I have always approached my life assuming equality. I grew up with five brothers who treated me as their equal. I think of it as freedom to make use of all the brainpower and emotional energy available and necessary for both men and women to give our best to whatever we do. Women tend to think more about the communal good, which is required for progress overall in the world. We need more of that thinking, plain and simple.
Krithi Karanth, Conservation scientist with the Wildlife Conservation Society
Krithi Karanth, a torchbearer for wildlife conservation in India, first tracked tigers at the age of eight. Her father was one of India’s pioneering conservation biologists and Karanth saw first-hand the many threats to wildlife. For a long time, she says she wanted to “be anything other than a conservation biologist”, but her passion for nature eventually won out. Research led her to realize that threats to wildlife often stemmed from conflict with people who suffered from losses of crops, livestock and property. As a result, she set about mapping and modelling such conflict zones across India. Now associate conservation scientist with Wildlife Conservation Society, she has led the use of science and technology to balance human-wildlife interactions in India.
Wildlife science and conservation needs more women.
Shannon May, Founder of Bridge International Academies
As an anthropologist conducting research in rural China, Shannon May saw close-up how primary education was failing already impoverished families. The experience prompted her to research how children could be taught the skills they need to thrive, harnessing data and technology to make a replicable and affordable model of education. The result was Bridge International Academies, the world’s largest private provider of nursery and primary education for families living on $2 a day or less. Bridge International, which charges $6 a month on average, launched its first school in Nairobi in 2009. It has now expanded across Africa, educating over 100,000 pupils, and plans to reach 10 million children across a dozen countries by 2025.
If we keep the status quo in education, it won’t be until 2070 that all rural girls in Nigeria will complete primary school. We need to examine how we’ve created an education system that systematically excludes marginalized populations. Little is being done with urgency to ensure that every girl has access to a classroom not just to sit, but to learn. This International Women’s Day, let’s also prepare to celebrate the girls who will lead us in the generations to come by ensuring that every girl has the chance to fulfil her potential.
Tolu Olubunmi, Co-founder of Welcome.us
Tolu Olubunmi credits her work on immigration policy and social innovation to her own struggles with US immigration law. She was born in Nigeria and brought to the US aged 14. After graduating in chemical engineering, she found herself unable to work in her chosen profession due to complications with her immigration status. Rather than give up, she began volunteering her time advocating for the rights of young immigrants. She started her career in public affairs as a fellow with the National Immigration Law Center and quickly established herself as an innovative and respected leader on immigrants’ rights. She is a co-founder and former executive director of Welcome.us, an NGO celebrating the US as a nation fuelled by an immigrant tradition. During the height of the immigration reform debate in Congress, Olubunmi was invited by President Barack Obama to speak at the White House. She serves on the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Migration and is an inaugural Leadership Institute Fellow with the Center for American Progress.
A woman’s achievements are her own and we must resist the urge to judge them by what is expected of women or what is generally ascribed to men.
Rapelang Rabana, Founder and CEO of Rekindle Learning
Dubbed the “Marissa Mayer of the Silicon Cape”, South African entrepreneur and computer sciences graduate Rapelang Rabana co-founded Yeigo, one of the world’s first mobile VoIP applications. Named one of Africa’s Best Young Entrepreneurs by Forbes Africa, she became a World Economic Forum Global Shaper, all before the age of 30. In 2013, she launched the online training and education company Rekindle Learning. She actively promotes the role of women in business as well as the potential of mobile technology to seed new business opportunities that provide much-needed jobs and crack socio-economic challenges.
To build more resilient communities and societies, we must leverage the strengths and values of all people, men and women.
Chetna Sinha, Founder of the Mann Deshi Foundation, India
Born in Mumbai, Chetna Sinha abandoned the urban lifestyle to pursue a career in farming in the drought-prone area of Maharashtra in Western India. As a result, she experienced first-hand the difficulties facing women in this region, from the lack of financial support to the fact that they are not treated as viable entrepreneurs. She went on to develop India’s first rural co-operative bank owned by women. The Mann Deshi Mahila Bank is a micro-enterprise development bank working with low-income women, which provides business loans. She established a business school for rural women to provide training in entrepreneurial skills. Since 1996, Sinha has been organizing women in rural areas of Maharashtra in the fight for land and property rights and she launched a community radio station, providing a platform for sharing information. She also set up a toll-free hotline linked to India’s Chamber of Commerce to give rural women financial advice. Mann Deshi aspires to launch 1 million rural women entrepreneurs through partnerships with social enterprises and mainline financial institutions in India. Sinha was named India Social Entrepreneur of the Year 2013 for her work with Mann Deshi, and a Schwab Foundation Social Entrepreneur of the Year in 2014.
If you want a successful social enterprise, tap into the talent of women.
Esra’a Al Shafei, Founder of Mideast Youth
A Bahraini civil rights activist and digital entrepreneur, Esra’a Al Shafei sees the internet as a tool to promote freedom of speech and foster change. In 2006, aged just 20, she founded online forum Mideast Youth, which seeks to give young people a voice in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). The organization builds web and mobile applications that amplify the voices of under-represented communities in the MENA region and beyond. Its projects includeCrowdVoice.org, which crowdsources and curates eyewitness photos, videos, data and reports on protests and social justice movements in places that traditional media often cannot access. Mideast Youth also runs Ahwaa.org, a forum for the LGBT community in the Arab world, where young people can discuss issues on identity in countries where homosexuality can be punishable by imprisonment or death, and Mideast Tunes, which is currently the largest platform for underground musicians in the MENA region who use music as a tool for social change. Al Shafei is a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Social Media, a senior TED fellow and a recipient of the Berkman Award from Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society for “outstanding contributions to the internet and its impact on society”.
We need to remove the barriers to entry for women in tech. It’s time for the industry to value female talent and perspective.
Kathryn Sullivan, US Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere
Part of NASA’s first class of female astronauts, selected in 1978, Kathryn Sullivan went on to fly three shuttle missions and became the first American woman to walk in space. Having seen Earth from that privileged vantage point, Sullivan now works to help people understand how dynamic our home planet is and use that information to help communities become more resilient to natural hazards and climate change. She left NASA in 1993 to take a series of high-level jobs, first as chief scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and now as head of the same organization. An Earth scientist and PhD geologist/oceanographer, she works on harnessing big data from space to draw attention to the fragility of the climate.
We’ve made tremendous strides toward gender equality, but there’s much more to be done. Now is the time to #makeithappen.
Leila Takayama, Senior Researcher at Google[x]
Specializing in human-robot interaction, Leila Takayama wants to make robots that are better able to integrate into the human world and perform useful roles at work and in homes. As research scientist at robotics company Willow Garage, she teamed up with an animator and sound designer at Pixar Studios to come up with gestures and emotive beeps and whirrs to make robots more approachable. Now a senior researcher at Google[x] – a Google lab that aims for “moonshots” in science and technology – she is one of the World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leaders and a Global Agenda Council Member for AI & Robotics. Takayama has also been named one of Technology Review’s top 35 innovators under 35, and one of the 100 most creative people in business by Fast Company.
Inventing a future we actually want to live in requires engaging the perspectives from women and men alike. Those diverse discussions lead to more informed and creative solutions.
Author: Ceri Parker is an Associate Director at the World Economic Forum, and edits the Agenda blog platform.