Working toward Unified Goals on Women’s Issues at WEF 2018

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22nd Jan 2018




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As global business leaders gather in Davos, the most striking feature in the agenda of the 2018 World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting is the list of seven co-chairs. 

They’re all women, distinguished in their accomplishments within the public and private sectors and representing a broad range of industries and disciplines, including governance, finance, energy, technology, labor and social entrepreneurship. 

This impressive roster is both a clear demonstration and inspiring symbol of how far women have progressed on the world stage – specifically, that guidance for the most reputable global platform on economics has been assumed entirely by women.

On the other hand, the list of the organization’s Crystal Award honorees, cited for their leadership and compassion in addressing crises around the globe, underscores that much work is still needed to improve the lives and influence of women internationally.  The exemplary honorees, including Cate Blanchett, Elton John and Shah Rukh Khan, have taken on missions to address critical humanitarian issues that overwhelmingly affect the female population.  At the core of these challenges is oppression: either glaringly and cruelly intentional – e.g., the practice of acid attacks and other violent acts of intimidation – or a by-product of unfortunate circumstance, such as the plight of refugees who are predominantly mothers fleeing war-torn countries with their children and assuming the burden of rebuilding lives under threat in alien lands.

This imbalance between progress and continued crises on gender equality is reflected in this year’s WEF theme “Creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World.”  It’s a broad metaphor, yet one that can be accurately applied to the continued fight for equality in business and daily life. 

I’m drawn particularly to the word “shared” because of what we’ve seen here in the U.S., a growing sense of unity among women who are coming forward courageously in large numbers to tell their stories about unacceptable obstacles and treatment.  We’ve witnessed marches in cities big and small, demanding change in how we’re regarded in the workplace, at school, in the home and on the streets.  Similar demonstrations, both coordinated and organic, have taken place in the thoroughfares of industrial powers and third-world countries.

In a collective voice, we’re demanding respect for our accomplishments and potential, our intelligence and heart, our safety and dignity.

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The challenge is how we convert this upheaval into progress instead of more “fracturing.”  How do we ensure that this groundswell doesn’t devolve into chaotic complaint, but rather a means to achieve clear goals for women? In effect, it’s like solving a Rubik’s cube that requires calculated dismantling as we work toward assembling a fairer, more unified order.  

As Malala Yousafzai has said, “I raise up my voice — not so I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard ... we cannot succeed when half of us are held back.” 

This year’s WEF offers a highly visible opportunity for women leaders to bring a unified voice into the discussions and debates and use them to create real, meaningful change.  All of us who are involved here in WEF must be more than inspired and energized by these courageous voices, but also accountable to them and ready to take the dialog and discussion to our friends, companies, social media followers and women everywhere – look for more from me from #WEF2018 and please share your hopes and ideas for how to create a more positive, safer, healthier and more equitable future for all of us.

Seema Kumar is head of Innovation at Johnson & Johnson and will be co-hosting the Ordinary Club of Extraordinary Women tea at the Hub Culture Davos Pavilion on Thursday, 25 January, 2018. Tune in on Facebook at 4pm Swiss, 3pm GMT, 9am EST at https://facebook.com/hubculture