The issue of how women can reach parity at work and in society isn’t a new conversation. Every year, business leaders, media figures, entertainers and politicians seem to communicate the same message — a kind of call to action that will motivate society to give women the same standing through equal pay and opportunity as their male counterparts.
They do this at conferences and via articles, reports and in advertising campaigns that flip the script on the way women and men are portrayed in pop culture.
And that’s exactly what took place at the 8th Annual Women in the World New York Summit on Thursday at Manhattan’s Lincoln Center. The event, which was presented by Tina Brown’s namesake live media firm and The New York Times, drew a highly successful group of men and women, who not only explored the equality of women question, but also wondered when we’d stop asking it.
“Everything is coming to the surface…that’s a catalyst for real change,” said Arianna Huffington, who pointed to social media as a tool to magnify the problem.
The founder and chief executive officer of Thrive Global spent Thursday morning addressing why only 5 percent of Fortune 500 ceos are women, along with panelists Susan Wojcicki, ceo of YouTube; Miki Tsusaka, chief marketing officer, senior partner and managing director of BCG, and Sallie Krawcheck, ceo and cofounder of Ellevest and chair of Ellevate Network.
“It’s worse on Wall Street,” Krawcheck said, referring to that 5 percent statistic. “Wall Street has gone backward [since the financial crisis].”
Even though diverse teams tend to produce greater returns in finance, Krawcheck said business leaders post-crisis are more male, whiter and more middle-aged than before.
Wojcicki chimed in that the problem is pervasive in the male-dominated tech field, which is a serious issue for future employment, as her industry has disrupted so many fields. She called the dearth of women in Silicon Valley a “societal issue,” and said that one way to alleviate that is to have more women at the management level, as well as to promote tech as a creative, collaborative field, not one that is simply male, geeky and numbers-driven — even if it’s a bit of both.
“Women need to be at every layer of the pyramid,” echoed Tsusaka, who works in Japan where the disparity of female executives is even higher.
While Japan’s culture is male-oriented, China has interestingly produced a high concentration of female billionaires. And the summit played host to a major one: Zhang Xin, co-founder and ceo of SOHO China and the fifth richest self-made billionaire in the world.
Xin spoke with Maria Bartiromo, anchor and markets editor at Fox Business Network and Fox News Channel, about how China has become a land of equality in business for women.
“China had no private economy,” Xin said, referring to the time when Mao Zedong established The People’s Republic of China. “Men and women were starting from the same level. Women were given the opportunity to build just like men.”
Xin said one positive thing Mao did was to ensure that women got equal pay, equal jobs and that women worked. Xin, who grew up poor, left China for Hong Kong, where she worked in a factory and learned English. She saved enough money to move to England and attend Cambridge University, and then worked on Wall Street. But, after 15 years away, she returned to China to be part of the urbanization of the country.
Credited as “the woman who built Beijing,” Xin became a builder and started her own company. She worked with the late architect Zaha Hadid, a woman who Xin called the “best architect of our time.”
When they met, Hadid had won plenty of prizes but she hadn’t built anything because her male-dominated field had passed her over. Their partnership has helped shape the skyline and culture of Beijing.
Later, Bartiromo would step a bit outside the woman-box and to talk about world politics, asking what Xin thinks will happen during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit with President Donald Trump today.
After a pause, which was filled with nervous laughter from the audience, Xin offered: “I think you have two men who want to show who is stronger. That’s usually a tough game.”
Later, Katie Couric would talk about the importance of advertising on the way society depicts women. Panelists included chief creative officer and founder of Badger & Winters, Madonna Badger; AT&T chief brand officer Fiona Carter; Marc Pritchard, chief brand officer of P&G, and musician and actor Queen Latifah, whom Couric referred to as “Queen.”
The entertainer underscored the importance of her role as a face of Cover Girl to minorities, while Badger and Couric discussed ads they found sexist. Those included Stuart Weitzman’s black and white campaign showing naked models whose bodies were touching in a tight embrace — no shoes in sight except the chunk-heeled sandals they wore — and an Equinox ad with a male model standing and pointing his camera over a female model who lifted her body by her arms with her legs spread. A caption reads: “Flex Appeal. By Equinox.”
The group talked about Pepsi’s decision to pull its controversial ad featuring Kendall Jenner on Wednesday, touting how this generation can get their voices heard via the megaphone of social media. That gave solace to some of the panelists who wondered if anything would really change of if they’d be sitting on another panel next year discussing the same issues.
“Millennials are going to accelerate [change],” Carter said. “They have a voice and they’re not afraid to speak up.”