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Women 2012: Good News on Health and Education Bad News on Pay and Clout

By Natasha Cline-Thomas*

Each year, NCRW hosts an expert roundtable on the afternoon of its Awards Dinner. This year’s program Women 2012: Taking a Worldwide Reading was enlightening. It featured four leading experts who discussed findings from major national and global status reports on women and gender equality. They were: Iris Bohnet, Academic Dean, Professor of Public Policy, Director of the Women and Public Policy Program at the Harvard Kennedy School; Jeni Klugman, Director, Gender and Development, World Bank; Racquel Russell, Special Assistant to the President for Mobility and Opportunity, White House Domestic Policy Council; and Saadia Zahidi, Co-Author, World Economic Forum Gender Gap Report. Pat Mitchell, President and CEO, The Paley Center for Media moderated.

As Pat Mitchell put it, the purpose of the afternoon panel was to “translate findings into action”. Jeni Klugman kicked off by noting the good news in gender equity: women’s life expectancy is on average 20 years more than three decades ago and women have exceeded men globally in earning college degrees.  Saadia Zahidi noted that the United States ranks 17th in the world in terms of gender equality while Iceland and the Scandinavian countries dominate top spots.

Why isn’t the United States towards the top of the list?

Racquell Russell said we need to invest more in getting women into science, technology, engineering, and math studies and fields in order to restore the U.S.’s global competitiveness. She also noted the importance of adopting policy reforms such as the Paycheck Fairness Act that would lead us closer to parity.

Iris Bohnet recommended moving away from over-reliance on the business case for women’s parity but rather framing it as a human right. She reaffirmed the importance of benchmarking, such as in the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Report in bringing about change because “what doesn’t get measured doesn’t count.”

While strides have been made, the reports show that there is a lot of work left to do to achieve women’s equality. Wage gaps between men and women peak at around 80 percent in top-ranked countries but dive to as low as 20 percent in the lowest-ranked. That said, the entire outlook is not so bleak. Women’s increased participation in both the public and private sectors will serve as the backbone to any robust and growing economy. Although controversial, instituting quotas is one way to do this. It is proven that a diverse workforce performs better and it has become increasingly clear that women must play an integral role in its development.

As NCRW President Linda Basch aptly put it, “We need more women to make the kinds of structural and cultural changes that might correct some of the continuing imbalances in our economies and societies.”

* Natasha Cline-Thomas is a senior at Barnard College and a Communications Intern at NCRW.

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