I once had the pleasure of hearing former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright share a memorable story about her granddaughter to a captive audience at TED Women. She recalled her granddaughter saying to her mother, “I don't see what the big deal is about Grandma Maddie being secretary of state. Aren't secretaries of state always girls?”
While women have clearly done well in the State Department – thank you Madeleine, Condoleezza, and Hillary – they haven't fared as well elsewhere.
As Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, said in her now-famous commencement speech at Barnard College, “Of 190 heads of state, nine are women. Of all the parliaments around the world, 13% of those seats are held by women. In corporate America's top jobs, 15% are women; numbers that have not moved at all in the past nine years.” Despite women accounting for 58% of all undergraduate degrees in the US for example, the number of CEOs at Fortune 500 companies remains at 2% to 3%, according to McKinsey & Company.
What inspires me today, though, is that people are no longer just talking about the disparity between men and women in the workplace, many are working to make a difference. Sandberg's Lean In movement is a perfect example – and it's not just women.
As the Committee for Economic Development recommends in its report “Fulfilling the Promise: How More Women on Corporate Boards Would Make America and American Companies More Competitive, “We would take sponsorship programs to another level by challenging senior executives, men in particular, to take responsibility for developing, grooming, and advocating for talented women within their companies.”
Richard Edelman was the inspiration behind GWEN and has made a solid commitment to increase the number of female executives within the firm to 50% by 2016. As he has said, “So many women have given their all to Edelman, it's only natural that Edelman can and should be the place for women to have it all.”
And it's not just coming from the top – employees asked for change, and we listened. Since Richard first announced the establishment of GWEN, I have literally received hundreds of emails from around the world with messages that make it clear GWEN is both needed and wanted:
“I was really happy to hear that Edelman has launched an initiative to support women's progression and development throughout the network. I recently moved and the low number of females in senior management in the PR industry (globally) is an issue that baffles me! I would be really interested in getting involved or lending my time to support GWEN.”
I am both hopeful and confident that GWEN will, once again, help us lead the industry to a new norm, where women can succeed at all levels of the firm and industry.
Gail Becker is chair of Canada, Latin America, and the US Western Region at Edelman.