Last week, I found myself on Manhattan's West Side in an exquisitely decorated loft owned by Winds of Change philanthropist Shamaya Gilo. Sixty powerhouse women were gathered together for wine and cheese and to strategize about how to support women's leadership through cold-hard cash. The loft was filled with talented and accomplished women of wealth -- women who were personally wealthy or those who pulled the strings at some of New York's top financial institutions. Present in the room were wealth managers, venture capitalists, fixed income and equity traders, professional investors, lawyers, quants, mutual fund managers, bankers, heads of family foundations, philanthropists and market makers of all kinds and a couple of token (and sympathetic) males thrown into the mix. We had one thing in common: the drive and ambition to push more capable and accomplished women into the ring.
What is the "Ring?" It is the corporate boardroom, the C-Suite at Fortune 500 companies and top levels of financial institutions. The ring includes politics, finance, business and generally anywhere that women have been traditionally marginalized, which let's face it, is everywhere that matters aside from the home front. The question we are asking is why are women deliberately kept out of key roles in world affairs and what can we do to change that?
The New York gathering of high-powered women, organized by Criterion Ventures under the direction of the indefatigable Jackie VanderBrug, encouraged women to invest in each other. Speaking to the crowd of well-heeled power women were Nada Jain (Golden Seeds), CJ Juhasz (ISIS Fund/Women's World Banking), Jo-Ann Tan (Acumen Fund), Georgie Benardete (Multicultural Capital), Sally Boulter and Noelle St. Clair of Calvert Foundation who detailed each organization's mission to empower women. The event marked a shift in action -- we are tired of waiting for men to open the door for us. Ladies and gentlemen ... in the 21st century, we are opening the doors for ourselves.
What makes the world go around is money. The Criterion Ventures model aims to put money behind women-centric ventures and entrepreneurs. (Women investing in Women.) We have seen how money in the wrong hands, evidenced by the global economic crisis, has thrown the scales of power completely out of whack and left behind whole portions of the population on both sides of the Atlantic. Women, it may come as no surprise, have fared worse than average. The poor are getting poorer and the majority of poor in the U.S. and around the globe are women. They are the last to get hired and earn substantially less than their male counterparts.
I am not going to pretend that I don't think women should have seats of power. I am not going to play nice and say it doesn't matter. I am not going to quietly and apathetically marginalize my own gender by politely acknowledging that men are wonderful and capable of handling world affairs without us. Yes, many men are wonderful and ladies what would we do without them? But what we would do with them as co-creators of the world is the real issue.
The first and critical question is: What would men do without women? I'll start by answering that from my home turf in the U.S.
In the last twelve years since the end of the 20th century and the birth of the new, America has started two wars that have cost millions of people their lives and changed the world order permanently. We have given birth to a devastating global financial crisis that has plunged millions of innocents into starvation, joblessness and homelessness. The wars and the economic collapse have resulted in international chaos and unrest and launched movements of desperation like the 99 and 1 percent. All of these disastrous events occurred under male leadership-- without the help or input of women. Gentlemen, you have done such damage to the world we share, why you continue on that path and do not see the wisdom of incorporating women into top leadership positions is beyond logic. Yet women continue to be disenfranchised.
So enough. Enough of testosterone-fueled aggression whether it is the violence of economic greed or the guns of bloody wars. It is time for western civilization to enter the enlightened age. Women are the key to a more sustainable world in the new millennium.
Why are women the key to changing the world for the better? Because very simply: we are the life-givers, not the life-destroyers. It is in our DNA to create and nurture life, not desecrate it. Yet somehow, despite the fact that we carry, create and protect life, women are raped, murdered, mutilated, marginalized and humiliated every second of every day somewhere in our world. The issue becomes which kind of world do we want to carry forward -- one that destroys life or one that creates it? If the choice is the latter, then the inclusion of women is essential.
In my work at the United Nations over the past several years, I had the honor and privilege of knowing one of the great men in this world and a true champion of women: Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury. As President of the Security Council in 2000, the Ambassador introduced Resolution 1325 which endorsed urgently needed economic and educational opportunities for women. The resolution was the result of his experience as a diplomatic leader in Bangladesh where women were routinely violated physically and materially. His work has greatly advanced the plight of rural women around the globe.
Yet our work in this decade necessitates more than helping women. In very direct ways, the world desperately needs women to help it. We need every bit of TLC for people and our planet we can muster. For women, this is second nature. Strength is no longer measured in an enlightened world by brute force. True courage can be seen in the stoic stamina, tolerance, patience and big-picture vision of women.
Something Ambassador Chowdhury once said stuck in my mind. He explained that at UN mediations to resolve global conflicts, the men at the table invariably wanted to know, "What's in it for me?" They would ask how the solution would affect them personally in power and privilege before giving their consent. Women, according to the Ambassador, were more concerned with what kind of world they were leaving for their children.
The stark difference in thinking jolted me and I realized this was true. Women naturally think in terms of creation and cooperation, not domination and aggression. These qualities, however, are a double-edged sword. In one way, this is precisely the reason we have been held back. In many ways, we have held ourselves back. We have not fought tough enough or hard enough to say: This is our world too; you don't have the right to destroy it for me or my children.
In this century of women, we -- the feminine gender -- and the men who see us as friend, not foe, need to pool our resources, money, votes and support and put these behind women in leadership roles. Only with the direction and input of women can we build a more sustainable world based on mutual cooperation and constructive solutions.
We are proud of the women on the world stage handling the complex chaos around them with grace, brilliance and courage: the Hillary Clintons, Christine Lagardes, Angela Merkels and Ellen Johnson Sirleafs. But they can't do it alone. They need our help -- every one of us, male and female.
Hillary Clinton said of empowering women, "It's not just the right thing to do; it's the smart thing to do." Jackie VanderBrug explains why: "Gender diversity [in companies, on corporate boards and in leadership roles] works for all of us. It allows you to see things that you would not otherwise see."
The time to step up, step out and make our voices heard is now. Not a moment should be lost, because without our help and the feminine sense of balance and wisdom we naturally bring to problem solving, the world is a sad and sorry place. Our only hope for a better future lies in the power, appreciation and inclusion of women.