WE Empower partner The Female Quotient interviews Amanda Ellis

Amanda Ellis giving presentationWE Empower UN SDG Challenge Partner, The Female Quotient (FQ), is a “female-owned business committed to advancing quality” via four innovative sections of their business: FQ Media, FQ Lounge, FQ Practice and the FQ Marketplace. This interview with Amanda Ellis — WE Empower co-chair and executive director, Hawaii & Asia-Pacific for the ASU Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability — was conducted by FQ Lounge (their signature pop-up experience) and featured in the FQ magazine. Question: In The Equality Lounge at Davos, you noted that “women are so often seen as victims, and there is a need for justice.” Can you expand upon this, and how programs like WE Empower help change the narrative? Answer: We tend to think of women as victims, particularly of violence and, of course, we are the majority. But we don’t always think about other issues like climate change. Women and children are 80% of the victims of climate change. There’s a real need for social justice. What we often forget is that women are also the solution. The reason climate change is on my mind so much is that, last week, here in Hawaii, they recorded 4.15 parts per million of CO2, which is the highest in three million years. We’re on a really worrying trajectory. Women and girls are the number one solution to climate change, saving 120 Gigatons of CO2 by 2050, according to the work that Paul Hawken and his research team have done on Drawdown. The idea behind the WE Empower UN SDG Challenge is to showcase women entrepreneurs, in particular, who are helping to solve big problems like climate change and supporting the Sustainable Development Goals that all UN member countries agreed on back in 2015. Recent research shows that women in business are more likely to take environmental and social considerations into account and, therefore, to do more good through their enterprises. WE Empower has three aims: to honor and showcase women entrepreneurs supporting the UN SDGs through their business endeavors, to invest in their growth, and to ignite change. One of the questions that is asked on the WE Empower entry form is, “What obstacles do you think you, as a woman, face that a man may not in business?” And we hear all sorts of things like, “Inability to own property,” for example, which then impedes collateral for a business loan. Or, “I need my husband’s permission to start a business,” which is still the case in a number of countries. So these kinds of barriers help highlight the fact that it’s not a level playing field and yet despite that, women are doing amazingly well. McKinsey estimates the global economy could grow by as much as $28 trillion with true gender equality. Q: More than 90 percent of countries still have laws that discriminate against women and prevent them from being economically active. What can we do to change this? A: One of the really exciting projects that I was privileged to lead at the World Bank documents laws that discriminate against women. Since we started the project 10 years ago, Women, Business and the Law has recorded over 230 reforms. The thing that is not so positive is that, according to the latest data which considers a woman’s life journey from getting a job through to retirement, only six countries have fully legislated gender equality. So how can legislators bring about change? The Human Rights Council reviews the legislation of every United Nations member country around every five years. We are launching a joint initiative in Japan in the margins of the G20 with the InterParliamentary Union and the Women Political Leaders Forum. The idea is to make parliamentarians aware of when their country will be up for review and engage civil society actors to press for change. There is an opportunity to create positive momentum by updating and changing discriminatory laws to fully meet the obligations every UN member has to promote gender equality. Q: The UN’s Sustainable Development Goal #5 is to “achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.” Can we achieve this goal by the target date of 2030? Are we on track? A: I am an optimist. Yes, I think it is possible to achieve this goal. One of the great things is that many of the metrics are already being tracked and there’s a project underway with the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) and the UN and the World Bank to make sure that there are metrics to really figure out how we are progressing. In 2020, we will be at the five-year mark with ten years to go. That would be an ideal time to take stock, double down on our efforts, and figure out how we can move forward. Our contribution with the broader WE Empower partnership is to help create momentum for change with legislators, which addresses the first and ninth targets for Goal #5. Q: The focus of this edition of the Modern Guide is “steps for equality.” What is one tangible step that any organization/ entity can take to advance women? A: The first step is to ensure that there are family-friendly and flexible work policies. I experienced this firsthand when I was Head of Communication at Westpac Banking Corporation in Australia. At that time, paid maternity leave was not mandated for women in Australia. But Westpac, as a good employer, provided six weeks. It was fascinating to see the data from before and after. The cost of maternity leave was considered to be a problem, but because the senior management team believed that this was the right thing to do, they went ahead. But, astonishingly, they actually saved $6,000,000 to the bottom line. When they did the research, they realized that they had increased retention and, therefore, cut costs for retraining and recruitment significantly. Smart employers these days are beginning to recognize the importance of improving employee engagement for both men and women. We often forget that men are fathers, too. More and more men are admirably wanting to play an equal role in parenting. So more family-friendly and flexible policies can not only make life easier for employees, but can also help improve productivity and retention. This is critical. Q: Now, let’s narrow the focus to the individual level. Is there a simple, impactful action that any person can take to champion equality? A: For senior managers, it would be really critical to consciously think about mentoring and/or sponsoring a female employee in the same way as we see senior men in companies almost intuitively doing that for younger men. If we could have both senior women and men committing to mentor or sponsor at least one woman in their company, it would be a fantastic commitment. There is value both ways too. Younger employees are often more tech savvy, have creative outlooks, and different perspectives on the business. You will often find, as I have in my career, that this kind of commitment is not just an obligation, but that it can also have real positive benefits for you as an individual as well as for the company or the business.