The final lineup of WFN’s conference Leadership for a Changing World felt like a fireworks finale of feminist brilliance across philanthropy, art, business, and politics. Let’s take a look at these amazing blasts of thought and strategy leadership one at a time.
Whose Story Is It?
Cristi Hegranes, CEO of Global Press and the Publisher of Global Press Journal, and Jeanne Bourgault, President and CEO of Internews, discussed how having more women creating and distributing media can have a significant influence on how we interact with, interpret, and change the world.
Cristi Hegranes began by describing the reach of Global Press Journal, which publishes in 13 languages every day and has an audience of over 20 million readers worldwide. Global Press Journal is also creating quality jobs in journalism, where employees enjoy “strong living wages, health benefits, paid maternity leave, and access to our industry leading duty of care program,” which ensures their security and support as they encounter the sometimes hostile and complex world of investigative reporting.
“We believe that access to accurate information is a basic human right,” added Hegranes, “and that women are uniquely suited to be the people in the news business telling more and better stories.”
Jeanne Bourgault, President of Internews, discussed the vital role of her organization, which champions locally-owned news organizations all over the world, reaching over 120 countries. She spoke about the “amazing power and potential when you have good media, powerful healthy media,” with media feeding the potential for people to “make better choice for our families” and “hold our governments to account.”
And while media should reflect the “dreams and aspirations of the entire community,” said Bourgault, “our world is facing a big problem in this area. Only 24% of the people you hear or read about are women, and the number for experts [that are women] is way lower than that.”
Putting Pressure on Newsrooms
Bourgault stressed the need to put pressure on newsrooms to do more to increase their representation of women.
Employment parity is important for newsrooms, said Bourgault, “but it’s not sufficient.” She described several ways to challenge the media industry on its representation of women and to “recognize that this is a terrible crisis.”
We Come as Girls, We Leave as Women: Teens Speak their Truth about Leadership
Writer and producer Chrishaunda Lee Perez spoke about the process of researching and creating her novel entitled We Come as Girls, We Leave as Women. The book, which has garnered praise from Oprah Winfrey and many others, explores challenges faced by a diverse group of young women students at Madame Ellington School for Girls. Local high schoolers joined the panel with Perez to share their experiences reading the book and to explore questions about the book with the author.
Perez spoke to the audience about how she uses art as a form of activism. “Art can be healing, and art changes things,” she said, adding that, “Not a project exists with my name on it without at least one powerful woman at the center of the narrative.”
Perez grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the second child of a teenage mother who was uneducated and poor. “Others may have thought they could easily determine what would come of the lives of my sister and me,” said Perez. With help, she said, “we changed our own narratives.”
“I’ve been very lucky in my life […] but my mother always instilled in me that regardless of who’s giving you what, how much favor you’re given, how much privilege you have, it is really up to you to live your own life.”
She described her novel as a “coming of age” story about girls from all over the world who overcome personal challenges. “Issues like sexuality, what one’s parents or guardian expects for her life versus what the girl really wants for her own life, and even ‘how do I feel in my own skin?'”
“I don’t talk about obsession with boys, even though everyone thinks that’s what’s in the minds of young girls,” said Perez. “I wanted to get to the heart of what’s going on inside our girls, to inspire gut strength, inner courage.”
“It seems that choosing a Latin American girls as the heroine of the book can have vast appeal after all,” said Perez, noting that she has been invited to speak both in the U.S. and internationally. She has spoken to audiences all over the U.S., as well as speaking in Senegal with women representing 29 different countries.
“This little independent book about girls growing up, that has nothing to do with being cute, and being sexy, and having the best butt, and having the best smile.”
“The book has found itself on the pages of the Sunday pages of the New York Times,” said Perez.
Perez has even spoken about the book for audiences of teenage boys. One audience of boys was from diverse communities in New York City, and by reading and discussing her book, they were able to experience empathy for the complexity of female identity.
Some of the most inspiring dialogue at this conference happened with Perez and the high school girls who had read her book. One student talked about experiencing a powerful identification with a quiet but strong-willed character in the book, while others admired the resilience and fortitude of the main character, Sagrario. (The clip starts with Perez discussing the importance of asking girls what they want to do, and supporting their ideas.)
Spotlight On: Women Unlocking Growth in the Global Economy
Next in the lineup of spectacular speakers, Beth Ann Bovino shared valuable insights on the world’s economy from her perspective as Chief U.S. Economist at S&P Global. Bovino talked about how women can grow toward fuller participation in the workforce with proper supports and increased access to opportunity.
“Labor market participation is now at a 40-year low,” said Bovino. “Many people between 25 and 54 have left the workforce. That means a missing 2-3 million workers who have children to feed, homes to care for.”
Bovino provided statistics to show that prime age (25 to 54) female participation for the US was near the top of the 22 advanced OECD countries in 1990. “However, today it’s almost in last place.”
“In terms of optimizing what is considered to be an economy’s most valuable resource, labor, we’re not doing a very good job, are we?” asked Bovino. “So what if we turned that around?”
This could be changed, said Bovino, by encouraging women’s full participation in the workforce. Doing so could potentially add “5-10% to nominal growth in just a few decades.”
Bovino furthered her argument by discussing how women do a cost-benefit analysis once they have children and realize how much expenses like childcare eat up their income. For many women, says Bovino, the cost-benefit analysis yields a decision to drop out of the workforce.
In closing, Bovino talked about S&P’s new campaign called #Changepays, which spotlights the both moral and economic imperative of women’s full participation in the workforce.
“Launching the campaign was a “first of its kind in terms of corporate responsibility campaigns for the company,” said Bovino. The campaign has “a goal to increase awareness of and advance discussion around the benefits of a more inclusive workforce.”
Bovino said the plan is for the #Changepays campaign to “serve as an important step toward bridging the skills gap in the workforce, creating a more inclusive economy and a more sustainable future.”
Up next in Installment #2 of #Womenfunded2019 highlights, we will hear from more great final panelists and speakers including Texas Women’s Foundation President Roslyn Dawson Thompson and Former Irish President Mary Robinson. Stay tuned!