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IWD 2021: One Hundred and Ten Years Later

Growing up with Russian literature, I fell in love with the beauty of creative writing. As a teenager, I would pick my pen and start drafting my own “novel-like” pieces (at least I thought so), following inspiring examples of Russian novelists. I remember finding my pieces of work months later, and recognizing one disturbing pattern: I was writing on behalf of a man. For context, Russian is a gender-inflected language — to the point where wording such as “I went to school” are different for men and women. I realized then that I was using the male form of verbs when talking about myself. “Why?”, I thought to myself — and quite immediately, it occurred to me: the very books I loved and cherished were all written by men. Female authors, poets and novelists in classical literature were so largely underrepresented to the point where using female forms of words felt unnatural and almost ridiculous to me. The 15-year old me unconsciously chose to sound male in order for her work to “fit in”.

The idea and movement behind the International Women’s Day originate from early socialist movements in the United States and Europe. In 1910, Clara Zetkin suggests to introduce an annual “Women’s Day” with the goal of securing equal rights for both men and women. In the following year of 1911, hundreds of movements take place across Central Europe as the first official IWD takes place in Austria, Germany, Switzerland and Denmark. The movement primarily addresses gender discrimination in the workplace and voting rights for women and quickly spread across the world. On March 8th, 1917, female textile workers start demonstrations in Petrograd, Russia (which sets the start for the Russian Revolution), followed by a march of 25,000 male and female supporters of the movement in Guangzhou, China in 1922. It wasn’t until 1918 and 1920 that women were granted the right to vote in Germany and the US, respectively. And it took roughly another fifty years for women to be able to file credit applications at a bank (in 1974, US) and to accept job offers without a husband’s permission (1977, Germany).

© Getty Images

Fast forward 110 years later, I am writing this piece on a warm March day in the year of 2021. One hundred and ten years! Sure, many things have changed since then and we have accomplished tremendous progress as entire global population. In 198 countries across the world, women exercise their voting rights along with male counterparts (note that some countries do not hold any elections). Today, 90% of all girls and 92% of all boys worldwide attend primary schools — there is hardly any difference in gender equity in primary school education. As Hans Rosling puts it, “educating girls has proven to be the world’s best ever ideas” as this creates a virtuous cycle of greater female employability, fewer children per mother and better lives for families across the world. In Germany, there is the so-called Schulpflicht (“compulsory schooling”) for all children, securing 100% of gender equality in German schools. In fact, 54% of all German high school graduates that receive the Abitur are female. So… what does the world look like when these girls grow up and enter the workforce?

The Three Pillars

For the sake of simplicity, let us analyze gender equity in three domains that carry significant importance for national economies and societies — ranging from science (academia) to existing companies (corporate) to new businesses (entrepreneurship) aka future lighthouse companies.

🔎 Academia: in Germany, women make up to 28% of scientific researchers, while the ratio of female professors at German Universities is roughly 23%. To be fair, however, the UNESCO estimates ratio of female scientists across different geographical regions as strikingly different from one another, with e.g. Latin America being better off than Western Europe.

🏢 Corporates: Regardless of company type (public or private), women in corporate leadership are still an exception. Across public German companies (SDAX, MDAX, DAX), women represent 10% of the board. The most widespread form of a business in Germany is a Familienunternehmen— in fact, 90% of all companies in Germany are family-led, in sum they account for 58% of all jobs. In family-led executive boards, however, women represent a strikingly low 4.8%. Looking at worldwide data, men account for 93% of CEO positions in Global Fortune 500 companies, leaving 7% of seats to women.

🚀 Entrepreneurship: Founders are often perceived as those who dare to think bigger and build a better world with resources they have at hand. Yet, only 16% of “those who dare” are women within the German startup ecosystem. In the United States, gender equity looks much more promising: women make up to 40% of all entrepreneurs across the country. In the case of technology startups, many of these rely on Venture Capital (VC) to take bigger risks and achieve ambitious targets. Hence, gender equity in distribution of VC is just as relevant as looking at founding statistics. A Crunchbase report suggests that only 3% of business investment goes into women in the US; Morgan Stanley estimates that each year, investors are missing out on business opportunity worth $4 trillion (!) in revenue as a result of not investing into female- and minority-led companies. Another BCG study shows that women-led early stage startups receive $1m less capital on average yet showcase more than 2x greater capital efficiency in comparison to male-led ventures. Just earlier this year, we all watched breathtaking news about Whitney Wolfe Herd, the youngest-ever female CEO to take a company to IPO. It turns out Bumble is #20 on the list of female-led IPOs. Only twenty companies in the world were founded and led to IPO by a woman.

So What?

Why care about this? Well, for one, including women across different domains leads to greater diversity of insights and ideas. Diverse teams are 6x more likely to anticipate change and respond effectively and 6x more likely to be innovative. Companies embracing inclusive culture increase their chances of winning new market share by 70% and are twice as likely to meet or exceed financial targets. Embracing Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) also leads to greater likelihood of outperformance on EBIT margin (33%) and increases employee loyalty (81%). Working with people who do not look like us, dress like us and come from various backgrounds than us is a challenge. We all feel more comfortable sticking to groups where we “belong”. When it comes to leading and executing, however, diverse teams clearly outperform.

Big things, small steps

“Real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time.” — Ruth Bader Ginsburg

The promising thing about gender equity is that it is improving. Across all domains mentioned above, we have seen progress in the recent decades and awareness around D&I has possibly never been greater in human history. In this regard, gender equity is both improving and has a long way to go. While slow progress is being made, it is still progress we can learn from. First step we can consciously take is to look into data and acknowledge the current situation. We can then take it further and contribute to securing equal rights for everyone to work and vote, lead and invest into businesses, drive scientific research and political decisions. This process is complex, involves action, takes time and effort.

So let us be part of real change — and it always starts with oneself. We cannot transform the world without starting with our own perception of the world, greater awareness and consciousness. We all have unconscious bias (you just read one of mine above) and tend to stick to groups that look like us, speak like us and come from similar households. Let us make efforts every day to pause and reflect, understand what drives us and challenge labels and stereotypes. Let us ask ourselves questions, like “Why did I just think that? Where does this assumption come from?”. Let us go outside our comfort zones and talk to people largely different from us, understand their problems, challenges, and personal motivators. If everyone takes at least a few minutes of their time every day to challenge their thinking and stay curious about that one person in the room who is different, I am quite confident the world will be a much better place in a fraction of just a few years. Only then, achieving D&I goals will come to us naturally, as a result of everyone investing a small effort.

This may all sound very theoretical. How do we keep progress of reflecting? How do we know we are successful? I am working on easy-to-use and helpful frameworks to include these topics on yearly or monthly agenda with some inspiring individuals— stay tuned! :)

Human history is quite fascinating — and in many domains, we have made tremendous progress. We surely have other challenges too, like extreme poverty, climate change and danger of global pandemics. I believe that solving these challenges does not contradict with working towards D&I— instead, it can be a complementary tool for tackling these challenges. As an example, investing into female education almost always secures better family lives and can potentially help us eliminate extreme poverty on Earth. We have the resources and energy to build a better tomorrow. Let us leverage these and start with being conscious, connect with others and speak up when needed.

With that, I would like to wish you all a Happy International Women’s Day. Let us take small steps to reflect, every single day.

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This is a platform for reasearch work, practical knowledge and ideas of active students, professors and professionals affiliated to the CDTM, an educational institution of the Universities LMU und TUM in Munich. Topics include digital technology, innovation and entrepreneurship.

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Mika Sagindyk

Mika Sagindyk

Hi! My name is Mika, and I love following my curiousity to discover new things and people. I get excited about great coffee and good books.

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