Womenomics – Is It Worth Talking About Gender?
Women Prime Ministers and Presidents are no longer newsworthy. At least not everywhere. Company presidents are so many that, again, the gender of a company’s CEO is not at all a newsworthy issue. At least no one wonders that the Northern countries, Ireland and some of the others have no issues with women in business or politics and generally consider diversity in almost all areas of public life as a norm.
And yet there are still places where gender continues to be frowned upon, ridiculed and most often undiscussed as a topic of media stories unless it can be framed in a derogatory way. Such as the news about Serbia gaining its first female and gay Prime Minister. Sexual orientation is no longer a very sensitive issue when it concerns people at the grassroots. However, the sexual orientation of the people at the top is worth discussing though it has little to do with their professional competence. Or does it? Anyway this article is not going to be about sexual orientation at the top levels in politics or the economy. The intention of this article is to look at the way gender issues are covered or neglected in the media.
For some years, I have attended a conference to which I was introduced by Cornelia Rotaru, the president of ADAF (the Association for the development of women entrepreneurship, www.adaf.ro), of which I, myself, am a member. I am a member because I am convinced that higher education cannot survive without strong entrepreneurship and commitment to the world’s real issues, not the ones that are “researched” and published in academic journals. Education (higher or otherwise) is about growing / educating people, not about doing research. The teaching and, consequently, learning components of schools of various levels have been slowly lost along the “glorious” road to internationalization and getting ahead in rankings. So, relatively bored and tired of academic conferences, I decided to venture into the world of business conferences – not easy, not comfortable and not at all convenient since the university has long ceased to contribute towards participation in such conferences.
I decided to join the 2013 Global Summit of Women in Kuala Lumpur and, since then, I have strived for a relatively regular attendance to all the yearly events. Each year, the Summit has a different topic. In 2017, the theme of the summit was “Beyond ‘Womenomics’ – Accelerating Access” and the event took place in Tokyo. In 2018 the theme will be “Women: Creating Economies of Shared Value” and the place will be Sydney, Australia, 26-28 April. To go to a conference in Japan is a great thing in itself, to go in May is truly a blessing. About 1,600 people attended the 2017 Global Summit of Women which means that more women and an increasing number of men took part in the Tokyo event than in any previous Summit.
So, what makes the Global Summit of Women so attractive that for 27 years it continued to develop and is now called fondly or ironically depending on what your values and beliefs are, the women’s equivalent of the World Economic Forum in Davos? It is a gathering in which women share and learn best practices in business, it is an opportunity for networking, discussions, inspiring presentations of issues and mainly solutions among a really global group of women leaders in business and government from all over the world.
So who are the people who come to the summit, where do they come from and what sorts of issues do they discuss there?
In May 2017, people from 62 countries from all over the world, entrepreneurs, senior executives, government ministers and parliamentarians came to Tokyo. The largest delegation came from China with 96 high-level entrepreneurs (are you surprised?), then from Kazakhstan with 85 women business owners participating, Vietnam with 81 people led by Vice President Dang Thi Ngoc Thinh and four government ministers, South Korea with 66, the US with 57, 46 from the Philippines, and 44 from Spain.
People from 62 countries from all over the world, entrepreneurs, senior executives, government ministers and parliamentarians came to Tokyo. The largest delegation came from China with 96 high-level entrepreneurs, then from Kazakhstan with 85 women business owners participating, Vietnam with 81 people led by Vice President Dang Thi Ngoc Thinh and four government ministers, South Korea with 66, the US with 57, 46 from the Philippines, and 44 from Spain.
How many people participated from Romania in 2017? Well, two. A representative from an NGO from Oradea (they are veterans in participation) and myself. One of the reasons for my initial decision to participate in 2013 had to do with the fact that on the list of “officials” was a Romanian woman and I just felt somehow inspired and convinced that we, Romanian women, will have a strong voice at the summit through her, and that I should be there myself to support her. Surprise! The Romanian high profile lady did not make it. And, no longer surprisingly but already predictably and sadly, at all the summits that I went to, the Romanian women from the top enrolled and did not show up. In Tokyo they did not even enrol. Neither did they enrol so far for Sydney. I hope at least the grassroots will be present. ADAF is still on the list of international partners of the Summit which means that Romania will be present.
Why is top level participation important? Possibly even more important than grassroots participation? Because women leaders who participated in the Summit made an impact, grew in a positive way the visibility of their countries, created a spirit of camaraderie, mutual understanding and support, of shared problems and possible solutions they took back to their home countries, got energized to continue to improve the lives of women in their societies, companies, and communities, have been covered in the local media, possibly changed perceptions on gender issues or rather human life issues. In other words they mainly participated in an event that highlighted an important issue in today’s world: the economic participation of women and how in many areas this is still unacknowledged or treated scornfully or even worse it’s taken for granted.
In Romania things are, as in a lot of other cases, officially OK: we are a European country with the necessary legislation in place and women “choose” to do whatever they do because they want so. Or maybe not?!? Maybe they do not know differently or they are not encouraged and supported to act differently. The just published Global Encyclopaedia of women’s lives around the world has a well-documented and critically written entry on Romania which underlines, among others that Romania’s 2015 Gender Equality Index is the lowest in the European Union (EU). The author of the entry, Roxana E. Marinescu, shows that at a value of 19.2 as compared to the average EU of 49.8 (EIGE, European Institute for Gender Equality, 2107), Romania and its women have important issues of poor representation in politics both at local and central level. The changes that are taking place happen at a snail speed everywhere in Europe, but particularly so in Romania where women have been allowed to fill in about 25% of the executive branches of the current government (Marinescu, p 276).
In comparison with the EU, which has as diverse situations as EIGE reports point out, Asia continues to have a traditional gender culture in spite of its rapid economic growth. In the boards of Asia’s largest public companies women hold just one in eight seats which is less than in Europe or North America. The usual explanation for the low representation of women in top positions in boardrooms across Asia has been explained in part through the local strong corporate culture, to which a generally strong male chauvinistic society is added that still places family and childcare burdens mainly on mothers. However, lack of progress begins to be considered by some executives, particularly male, as threatening the region’s attempts to improve governance and develop meritocratic corporate structures. Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has encouraged his country to increase economic growth and competitiveness by relying more meaningfully on women and women leadership. Yuriko Koike, the governor of Tokyo, main speaker at the Tokyo 2017 Summit, and the founder of the new Party of Hope, is a living lesson for Japanese women and not only who can and do compete and win in a traditionally male society.
Womenomics is, besides the 2009 successful book “Womenomics: Write Your Own Rules for Success” by Claire Shipman and Katty Kay, also a generalized paradigm that has shifted from Japan and its needs to the larger world. This happened alongside the realization that a fair and well-functioning economy, particularly in a globalized world, needs to attract and empower women to actively participate in the economy mainly at its top. What research shows and people feel intuitively is that a more gender equal EU may in time positively affect the growth of GDP, may conduce to higher levels of employment and productivity and could represent an answer to the challenges of an increasing ageing population almost everywhere in the world.
So, do we need to discuss womenomics in Romania? My answer is YES. We do need to discuss a lot and mainly to make sure that everybody understands exactly the meaning of what we are discussing. Andreea Paul laments the situation in Romania showing that there are only 11% women in the Romanian Parliament, they represent only 20% of the President’s team and they make up 30% of Romania’s Government. Competence or meritocracy are not at all related to this overall male dominance. Paul underlines that Romania figures in the already mentioned 2015 Gender Equality Index on place 113 in the world for the political involvement of women compared to place 50 for the economic participation. I do not believe in looking at other countries and crying that they are doing better or worse than we do. But I cannot help noticing that Romanian women are so underrepresented in politics, and although they work a lot they are still underpaid and not promoted. As a sad joke in my university the rector announced some time ago that he appointed the second woman vice-rector because women work harder than men and deliver on time. I am convinced that he told the truth, but there is a long road to cover from statement to practice in all fields. In other words, we have to walk the talk everywhere in Romania if we want happy people living happy lives.
 Roxana Elisabeta Marinescu, Romania, in Women's Lives around the World: A Global Encyclopedia, (2018), edited by Susan M. Shaw, Nancy Staton Barbour, Patti Duncan, Kryn Freehling-Burton, Jane Nichols, ABC-CLIO, USA