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What is the future role of women in global business?

Debbie Iannaci

Director, Corporate Communications, North America, Amadeus IT Group

Three Amadeus executives recently attended the Business Civic Leadership Center’s (BCLC) Global Corporate Citizenship Forum focusing on “Women and Business: Increasing Opportunity in the Workplace and in the Community,” a global event which took place on International Women’s Day, March 8th in New York City. Hosted with the United Nations, the conference attracted 350 business, government, and NGO leaders dedicated to empowering women globally.

Editor’s note:

Amadeus is unusual amongst technology companies in the number of women in top leadership roles. We have also supported, since its foundation, the International Business Corps, a branch of the BCLC which is a 501(c)3 affiliate of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the world's largest business federation. BCLC is the U.S. Chamber's resource and voice for businesses and their social and philanthropic interests.

We are not complacent about gender diversity and know there will be more for us to do; three of our executives recently attended a conference on this subject and share their reflections below.

Three Amadeus executives recently attended the Business Civic Leadership Center’s (BCLC) Global Corporate Citizenship Forum focusing on “Women and Business: Increasing Opportunity in the Workplace and in the Community,” a global event which took place on International Women’s Day, March 8th in New York City. Hosted with the United Nations, the conference attracted 350 business, government, and NGO leaders dedicated to empowering women globally.

Carolyn Cauceglia (Vice President, Strategic Sales),  Susan Kidwell (Airline Consulting Practice Lead), and Danette Patterson (Director, Project Management Office) attended from Amadeus North America.

I sat down with Carolyn, Susan, and Danette to get their thoughts on what they think the future holds for women in business around the world.

1) How well do you think the global business world is doing today in terms of empowering women in the workplace? Carolyn:
It really depends on where you’re focused, and the UN conference concentrated on two key areas: empowering women in developing countries as well as in the corporate world globally.

In developing areas like Africa for example, 80% of the farmers are women. So the “workplace” may be the fields where women labour for as little as $.50 per day. Or it may be in a hut, where women entrepreneurs with the help of sub-micro financing organisations, are producing and selling products such as knitted scarves or special blend coffee, and making $60 per day versus the $.50.

In the traditional global business world, women are making advances to higher-powered corporate jobs as well as capturing corporate board seats. However, statistics show there is still a way to go on both fronts.

Susan: 
For me, the conference highlighted how difficult it still is in many countries, and not just in developing countries, for women to voice their opinions and have opportunities available to them for success.
Danette: 
It is a challenge to rate how the business world is doing at a global level because of the vast differences between modernised and developing countries.

In the modernised world, much progress has been made for middle-management opportunities for women in business, but a glass ceiling remains beyond middle management, as evidenced by the relatively few women in top positions, in senior management and/or board positions at Fortune 500 companies. Often, where you do find women in top positions are where they have been more entrepreneurial, starting their own successful companies.

Progress in the traditional sense pales in comparison for women in business in developing countries.

2) What has to change/happen in order for women to reach their true potential in business/the workplace? Carolyn: 
It’s not only up to men to foster change and to empower women in business. Women leaders must "pay it forward" by mentoring other women, not only in their organisation but also others.
Susan: 
The conference really brought home how some governments are enforcing quotas for female workers. I believe women should be able to earn the right by proving their knowledge, expertise and skills. I learned at the conference, though, that this is not always possible or the case in many countries like it is in the U.S. for women to rise in business, although they may have the skills and qualifications to do so.
Danette:
The litmus test of modernity is the role of women in a society. Three reasons to support the role of business in empowering women are fairness and equity; change in the status quo; and changing patriarchal politics to change society. Two distinct areas that must be addressed to enable empowered women in business are diversity and education-based advancements. These are all relevant takeaways for any country or any society around the world.
3) What one thing do you think businesses should focus on, do or do better to increase opportunity for women in the workplace? Carolyn: 
For the women already in today's workplace, corporations can engage in active mentoring programmes and invest in continuing education. Education is also infinitely the key to the new wave of women entering the workforce. Corporations have the opportunity to give back by way of education grants, scholarships, and intern programmes. As individuals, executives can give back by mentoring talent.
Susan:
Several of the conference speakers were impressive in terms of how their companies have programmes in place to support these initiatives, mentor programmes and the like.
Danette: 
I’ll list three: education, mentoring and embracing the value of  "difference" that we bring.

Don't help women, enable us. Education (both pre and mid-career) is the key. We need to assure that women get equal attention to fundamentals including science and math.

Once in the business world, formal mentoring programmes have proved to be successful.

Lastly, it is a perception that women bring more "heart" into their decision-making. Rather than scoffing at that from a tough business world perspective, we need to figure out how to harness that for business success.

4) What is the one takeaway that resonated with you most from the conference? Carolyn:
A World Bank executive drew a parallel of the women of today being somewhat similar to the U.S. immigrants of the early 1900s. When these groups could not penetrate corporations, they became entrepreneurs and started their own businesses. Women as entrepreneurs are significant contributors to small business and that is good for economies.

Social entrepreneurship is also on the rise. It is the art of combining business with what is good for the world. There were many firms , foundations and initiatives well represented at this event that are investing in empowering women in economically challenged parts of the world.

Some of these are run by incredible women - and men - who are passionate about empowering women.

Susan: 
The conference impressed on me how lucky we are in many countries like the US and how much work still needs to be done to truly empower women in business, particularly in developing countries.
Danette:
The takeaway message for me was historically in third-world countries, women have produced the most "products" because their primary focus has been the practical survival of their children and themselves. Therefore, helping women help themselves has brought the most success.