It’s Time for Women to Take Charge!

Jenn Harrington

Yale’s World Fellows Program hosted a panel, “How to Nurture Women Leaders: A Global Conversation,” at Yale university on Tuesday, Oct. 9, to discuss the need for women to adopt leadership roles in the economy and public life.

Panelists included four women who are all World Fellows from different career backgrounds: politics, non-profit, business and academics. Mi-Hyung Kim, Executive Vice President and General Counsel of Kumho Asiana Business Group; Marlene Malahoo Forte, Senator of Jamaica; Sisonke Msimang, Executive Director of Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa; Ruchi Yadav, Senior Program Officer of The Hunger Project India; with moderator Priya Natarajan, Yale Professor of Astronomy and Physics and Chair of Yale Women Faculty Forum.

Discussion surrounded the decrease of female leadership in industry and solutions to this growing problem. “The question is no longer why we need women leaders,” said Natarajan. “Rather, [it is] how can we nurture women leaders.”

All panelists agree that a cultural change needs to occur in order to spark a social and political change in biases toward the female population. Perhaps the biggest controversy is what many women feel to be the eventual choice between a career and a family. One solution offered to the problem was child care initiatives in the workplace.

Msimang noted that employers are surprised to learn when a women employee is expecting. “You have to build into the model of your company or institution that women are going to have babies,” she said. This could help bridge the gap between which sectors of the economy women can hope to take leadership roles in.

Men are not rendered useless. They also need to play an active role in supporting women. Malahoo expressed that it’s not about challenges women face but the society that she’d like to see created. She said, “We need men to be a critical part of women’s empowerment.” Kim agreed stating that men need to be sat down and educated into changing their thinking.

All this talk of empowering women naturally leads to the discussion of the role of feminism in culture. Many female students don’t consider themselves feminist but as Natarajan explains, when a woman learns that a male, doing the same work, is earning more money “she immediately becomes a feminist.” This change in mind tends to occur later in life, after women enter the workforce and see biases firsthand.

With influential women like these, culture is sure to receive a shove toward new thinking. Who knows when you will wake up to the first female president of the United States?

The discussion was held in the Yale University Art Gallery auditorium and co-sponsored by the International Festival of Arts and Ideas, the Young Global Leaders of the World Economic Forum, the Yale Women Faculty Forum (WFF), and the Yale Women alumni group.