Despite the Christmas lights twinkling across the darkened city, my mind could not be more removed from the holiday season. Instead of frantic thoughts about last-minute gifts, I’ve been firmly fixated on questions of women’s equality and empowerment.
Perhaps it is the underlying legacy of egalitarianism and emphasis (and record) on women’s rights in Sweden, but everywhere I go—from jovial holiday parties at the American Club or in conversations with Swedish businesswomen and financiers— I encounter dynamic women excelling in their fields but also struggling with balancing work and family, or their personal expectations and creativity with the occasionally harsh and even sometimes unfair reality of the workplace.
As the post-Feminist generation, we often expect so much of ourselves—to break the glass ceiling, while simultaneously baking perfect blueberry scones for our happy husband and leading our 2.5 children in their respective Boy or Girl Scouts group— without having the resources, infrastructure or societal support to “have it all.”
Strategizing with women on how to solve, or at least ameliorate, these issues is my singular passion. Unfortunately, I believe women still occupy what I call “symbolic status” in various realms. How many times have you heard the phrase: “she only got that position, scholarship or spot on the board because they needed a woman”. There remains a prevalent thought that each board or scholarship program has room for the ‘token’ female or two, like a quota system. This pits women against each other, and breeds competition between us rather than camaraderie and a sense of responsibility to each other. We need to lift each other as we climb in order to break that interminable glass ceiling.
Professionally successful, happy women help and mentor other women. A prime example is our Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. Secretary Clinton is making female empowerment a major tenet of foreign policy and diplomacy – not least through her economic statecraft policy directive, which emphasizes the inextricable overlay between the business context and foreign policy.
In today’s globalized world, our economic policies and futures are interwoven and we need female leaders in business and politics shepherding change.
“Until women around the world are accorded their rights – and afforded the opportunities of education, health care, and gainful employment – global progress and prosperity will have its own glass ceiling,” Secretary Clinton said July 15, 2009 at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Economic statecraft is about leveling the playing field, and the necessity to tackle the incredibly complicated challenges of our time with a more balanced, dynamic approach. Ultimately, it is not a question of which gender is better or smarter. It is a question of creating a more humanitarian, more efficient world. And for this challenge, women must be included.