Female Leadership

“The transformation of women’s roles is the last great impediment to universal progress.” -Hillary Rodham Clinton

We do not know what the world would look like if women...

held half of the most powerful leadership positions in all countries and in international bodies like the United Nations. Would human development be accelerated if women had equal power to shape policies, programs and institutions? It is a profoundly important question (and one that is rarely asked) because there is evidence of a Female Leadership Dividend with substantial democratic, development, governance, justice and peace and security benefits for individual nations and for the world. If human development could be advanced by simply ensuring that women held half of the seats of power in all sectors it would surely be one of the most cost-effective paths to world prosperity, peace and security. And as women have a strong democratic claim to hold half of all leadership positions, action in this area rests on very solid political foundations.

However, these potential female leadership benefits remain unrealized all the while the world tolerates such low levels of female representation amongst national and international leaders. In fact, there is a crisis of women’s leadership in the world - a Female Leadership Deficit - that could be costing hundreds of billions of dollars in foregone development gains. Just 7% of governments, 4.5% of major corporations, 14% of leading universities, and 2% of the world’s religions are currently led by women. The proportions are even lower for women who have children, revealing a massive deficit of mothers among our most powerful public leaders. This sorry state is reflected in the Global Gender Gap Index where political empowerment, the gap between men and women at the highest levels of political decision-making, records the largest gender gap (80%), in contrast to the economic participation and opportunity gap (40%), the educational attainment gap (5%) and the health and survival gap (4%).

To reap the development dividends from closing the Female Leadership Deficit, countries should set a new goal of at least 30% of women in government, corporate, university and religious leadership roles by 2020 and at least 50% by 2030. Strategies to achieve these goals could range from prescriptive solutions including quotas that reserve at least 30 to 50% of candidate and/or leadership positions for women, to incentives that encourage and support women to run for and hold leadership positions and penalties for institutions that do not comply. Special policies and programs will be needed to increase the proportion of women with dependent children among leaders, especially those that ensure that public leadership roles are compatible with parenthood and other unpaid caring responsibilities.

To ensure that the development gains from women’s leadership are not captured by any one country or region, the United Nations, its agencies and development partners should endorse the new 50% female leadership target as part of Sustainable Development Goal 5.5 - ensuring women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision making in political, economic and public life - and measure country and UN performance against this goal annually. The UN should champion the idea that greater female leadership is a critical strategy for reducing inequality between nations, as the benefits of greater female leadership can disproportionately benefit the least developed countries. The United Nations should also advance the female leadership agenda as part of its peace and security mandate, as ultimately the benefits of female leadership could rise exponentially when women hold at least half of the most powerful positions in a majority of the world’s most powerful countries. Accordingly, a specific target of at least 50% female leadership by 2030 should be added to UN Resolution 1325, which currently calls on nations to “increase representation of women at all decision-making levels in national, regional and international institutions and mechanisms for the prevention, management, and resolution of conflict".

Female Leadership Deficit

Only two countries in the world have achieved equal representation of women in parliament. #JustActions

Female Leadership Dividend

Women leaders can deliver substantial development, peace & security benefits for nations and the world. #JustActions

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In the history of human development there is no evidence of societies where women held at least half of all leadership roles and exercised equal power to shape all aspects of life. We simply do not know what the world would look like if women had equal say in determining the nature of political, business, academic and religious organization.