Grit and Grace: Empowering women around the globe

Marie Jordan and Cheri Warren

Marie Jordan, SVP US Gas Operations and Cheri Warren, SVP Network Strategy

For two days last month, Cheri Warren, SVP Network Strategy, and Marie Jordan, SVP US Gas Operations, hung out with Hillary Clinton and Geena Davis. The four women leaders were at the Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEP) Conference, sponsored by United Nations Global Compact. Lucky for us, Cheri offered to tell us all about it. So we asked her a few questions.

First of all, what is WEP?

WEP stands for Women’s Empowerment Principles. Business leaders around the world are signing up in support of seven principles that offer guidance on how to empower women in the workplace, marketplace, and community. The conference is an annual event and this year’s 20th anniversary theme was “Unlimited Potential – Business Partners for Gender Equality”.

What was Hillary doing there?

The honorable Hillary Clinton, longtime champion of women’s rights, delivered a keynote address. It was centered on her belief that the unfinished business of the 21st century is achieving gender parity. She shared many facts from the project she has been working on with her daughter, Chelsea: “No Ceilings: The full participation report”.

Did she say anything that really spoke to you?

Hillary talked about the fact that she is a grandmother and related that her mother was born before women even had the right to vote! She recalled that her mom was made of “grit and grace”. That imagery pervaded the two days as speakers found kinship with the sentiment and kept it alive in all our hearts.

What was Geena doing there?

Geena was also a keynote speaker. She discussed the institute she founded – the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media. Her team has spent countless hours reviewing films from a gender perspective. What they’ve found is surprising studios across America: When they analyzed crowd scenes, women represented about 17% of the population. Shockingly, in real life, that is about the percentage of women lawyers, congresswomen, engineers…and the list goes on.

It made them wonder – is real life imitating the big screen?

What if, just by fixing the gender inequity on screen, we could accelerate gender equity in real life? Well, Geena and her team intend to find out as they make studios aware of the inequity, so we’ll have to watch and find out!

Geena also shared another shocking fact. As you may recall, she played the first woman president on TV a few years back. There were 19 episodes of ”Commander in Chief” and as a direct result of the show, 60% of Americans can picture a woman being president!

How are business leaders supporting WEP?

Here’s one example:

Joe Keefe, President and CEO of Pax World Fund, was the co-chair of the event. He and his firm are so serious about WEP that they’ve created a women’s empowerment index fund consisting of companies that have signed the global compact.

The theory is that companies that have achieved gender parity will have better financial performance and attract investors. Business cases that documented this resonated throughout the event.

Did you have a favorite business case?

Yes, Gustavo Perez Berlanga shared a compelling story. Berlanga is the Corporate Social Responsibility VP at Toks, a restaurant chain based in Mexico, which has 130+ restaurants nationwide and over 10,000 employees.

Berlanga was disturbed by what he saw in some of the remote villages of Mexico. While men traveled great distances for work, women and children were left in poverty. Often, husbands would have only a few weeks off at Christmas, and be gone the rest of the year. Inevitably, they would send money home for a few weeks or months post the Christmas visit, and then stop sending the much needed pesos.

Berlanga wanted to find a way to empower these women and raise the standard of living for them and their children, but how? He decided to get out in the field and truly listen to these women to better understand their needs, from their own perspectives.

The women explained they could work – they could produce and sell jam – but that they needed money upfront. Berlanga agreed to back them, paid them enough to produce an initial batch of jam, and in his words, went to church to pray!

With their first contract, the women made more jam than they’d ever made in their lives, and in record time. They produced 800 jars and unbeknownst to them, Toks checked the quality on every one and found it exemplary!

So began a long-term relationship that has fundamentally changed the future for these women, their children, and their families. Berlanga found a way to bring gender parity to rural Mexican women in a place and in a way that most would have decried impossible. Simply, he believed in them and wanted them to succeed. What a powerful combination!

What did you think about on your way home?

Two things:

One, something I just learned: When an under-represented group reaches 33% of the population, it has a voice. Accordingly, because women are often only 17-18% of the population, they have no voice. If you want to set metrics, % of population is a good one to track. Measure what you treasure.

Two, I’m proud to work for a company and CEO that has signed the Women’s Empowerment Principles. I can see the principles in play here on a daily basis and I’m proud to be part of a leadership team that puts them into action.

Today, 34% of our engineers are women – more than 33% of the population – meaning, we have a legitimate voice! We also have a voice as part of the U.S. executive team, where 36% of us are women.

I hope this makes you proud to work here, too.

Don’t hesitate to get in touch with me if you want to hear more about the conference. I also invite you to read my blog account of the event.

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