March 3, 2022
Chief Corporate Affairs Officer, UPS
CEO, WEConnect International
Women are at a milestone moment amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the current crisis in Ukraine. While these global obstacles have brought women and their families immeasurable challenges, there have also been silver linings with hope for innovation and growth.
To further foster this growth and empower gender equality, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation hosted the 12th Annual International Women’s Day Forum. During the event, a panel of senior leaders from the private, nonprofit and public sectors shared global perspectives of how women are faring around the world, the challenges they face in 2022, and inspiration for the future.
There Is Optimism For Women, Despite the Current State of the World
Though all expert panelists mentioned the global challenges women are facing in all corners of the world, the hallmark of each view included optimism for the future.
“Women have borne the brunt of this pandemic,” said Laura Lane, chief corporate affairs officer at UPS. “I know when women thrive, humanity thrives — and that's why UPS has been on the front lines. Making sure that throughout this pandemic, we've been providing helping hands to women to get them back up and running.”
Kate Behncken, vice president and global head of Microsoft Philanthropies, sees one of the greatest challenges facing women today as a lack of economic opportunities, which in turn deprives women of opportunities through empowerment for economic freedom to social mobility. However, Behncken remains optimistic.
“I see the opportunity that technology presents for women and girls; it can help empower them to access services to engage with each other to pursue economic opportunities,” she said.
“We know that gender equality is not only a matter of human rights, justice, and fairness,” added Rachel Vogelstein, White House senior advisor, Gender Policy Council. “But it's also a strategic imperative for the United States government and for nations around the world.”
Women Are Facing Economic and Accessibility Barriers
UPS and other companies’ women advocacy efforts focus on helping women thrive in the global economy. Lane and Behncken explained the barriers in the way of this freedom.
“[Women] can't thrive if they can't own property in their names, [if] they can't open a bank account, if they can't get a loan without a male co-signer … they can't move freely across borders or within a country or engage in certain kinds of economic activities,” said Lane.
“Access to broadband is critical,” Behncken added. “Without a proper broadband connection, people can't run a business online, can't access telemedicine [and] can't take on an online class.”
Though global digital and financial equity remains a challenge, UPS and Microsoft continue to craft and deploy solutions to bridge the gap. These efforts include a program to empower women in the Middle East to have access to the financial resources they need to succeed. The program also offers an airband initiative focused on bringing broadband to unconnected communities around the world.
Inspiration for Women Is Found Among Challenges
Meeting disparity with optimism, fighting for change and keeping all sectors accountable remains only a few of the ways women continue to advocate for themselves and each other in the global business landscape. The speakers each shared what gives them hope for the future of women in business.
“One thing that's giving me hope is the increasingly collaborative approach between governments, the private sector [and] nonprofits to try and solve some of these issues, as well as the power of women and girls around the world,” said Behncken.
Vogelstein cited the International Women of Courage Award, which is now in its 15th year of recognizing women who have demonstrated exceptional courage and leadership in advocating for peace, justice, human rights, and gender equality, often at great personal risk and sacrifice.
“When you look across the panoply of businesses out there, more and more businesses aren't just saying it, they're showing it,” said Lane, referring to the progress made over the last decade. “Almost half women [make] up our executive leadership team and almost half of our boards of directors are now women. If a company like UPS that had been traditionally in a male dominant industry can be led by great women, that is a powerful change in the works.”