"Courage calls for courage everywhere."
A phrase as important today as it was a century ago.
This week the first female statue was unveiled in Parliament Square to celebrate 100 years since the first British women won the right to vote. This is now a permanent reminder that we can never stop being courageous in seeking change, and we cannot stop striving for global gender equality.
With this in mind, this month I share with you women and organisations that are truly leading the way in delivering a more equitable world, and as always I encourage you to read, share and learn more about each of these individuals and the work they are doing to improve lives all over the world.
Please do keep in touch and let me know if you would like to contribute to the blog or find out more about the topics I share with you.
Baroness Mary Goudie
Who eats last?
Malnutrition and gender inequality
Malnutrition is sexist. Women and girls are twice as likely as men and boys to suffer from malnutrition. Today, more than one billion women and girls are malnourished. During adolescence, the nutrition gap between girls and boys widens and becomes even more dangerous if a woman gets pregnant. Unequal access to food, resources and health services make it harder for women to get the nutrition they need to thrive. Put simply, malnutrition is both a cause and consequence of gender inequality.
Severe anaemia, caused by nutritional deficiencies, contributes to 20% of all maternal deaths. At present, four out of ten pregnant women worldwide and half a billion women of reproductive age have anaemia. We know the devastating impact, and yet anaemia rates are creeping up - and fast.
The problem is particularly acute for adolescent girls, who are at a critical stage of development and have greater nutritional needs due to menstruation. During this time, girls will grow at a rapid pace and need good nutrition for their physical and mental development. Yet adolescent girls often fall off the nutrition map, with limited attention paid to the impact of nutrition interventions and data gaps.
Focusing on women and girls is key to breaking the malnutrition cycle and tackling gender inequality. If an adolescent girl is receiving the nutrition that her body needs, she is more likely to stay in school and delay her first pregnancy. If a mother is well-nourished during pregnancy, she is less likely to suffer complications during delivery and her child is more likely to be born healthy.
In Pakistan, over 50% of women are anaemic and 43% of children are stunted. Nutrition International, a non-for-profit organisation that works around the world to create effective and sustainable solutions for undernutrition, delivers folic acid and iron supplements to women and fortified flour to the general population. Interventions like this are highly effective in improving the health of women and children and fighting hidden hunger.
The UK has long shown leadership in tackling global malnutrition. Last year, the UK Government published its Nutrition Position Paper, which committed to put women and girls at the heart of its nutrition work and focus on reaching adolescent girls. In 2013, the UK Government hosted the first Nutrition for Growth Summit and tripled its investments in nutrition. Two years later, the Government committed to “by 2030 end all forms of malnutrition...and address the nutritional needs of adolescent girls, pregnant and lactating women, and older persons” through the Sustainable Development Goals.
But the world is woefully off-track meeting these commitments and leaders have failed to maintain momentum to push nutrition up the international agenda. For every year that we wait to take action, achieving these commitments becomes even more difficult.
The case for investment in nutrition is simple. Good nutrition is the foundation for development. With better nutrition societies become healthier, more sustainable and more equal. The time is now for greater, smarter investments in nutrition, investments that are targeted at the most vulnerable women and girls, integrated into health and other development programmes and monitored consistently and transparently. With real commitment from world leaders, we can end malnutrition by 2030 and transform the lives of millions of women and girls.
 Rates of anaemia have risen since 2012. Global Nutrition Report
Aiming higher for true gender equality: Why it’s essential to create the change we want to see – Dame Helena Morrissey, Head of Personal Investing at Legal & General Investment Management
Dame Helena Morrissey is Head of Personal Investing at Legal & General Investment Management, having joined from Newton in 2017. In 2010, she founded the 30% Club, a collaborative campaign to drive voluntary, business-led change, which has now become an international approach, with chapters in the UK, Ireland, Italy, Turkey, the US, Canada, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Australia, Southern Africa and the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council]. Helena’s first book, A Good Time To Be A Girl, was published earlier in 2018.
Combining numbers with lateral thinking
I really just ‘fell into’ fund management after friends at university suggested I apply – it wasn’t an obvious career after a philosophy degree but I immediately loved the variety, the intellectual challenge and the chance to combine numbers with lateral thinking.
After a promising start spending two years in New York, I was then passed over for promotion at the firm I originally worked for and was told there was ‘some doubt over my commitment with a baby’. I left and then had a very different, positive experience at a smaller firm, Newton, where the founder, Stewart Newton, effectively became my mentor.
Within seven years I had become the CEO (and had another four children, going on to eventually have nine!). The firm’s assets under management grew from £20 billion to £50 billion by the time I stepped down fifteen years later in search of a new challenge. I started at Legal & General Investment Management, a £1 trillion asset manager, almost a year ago.
Engaging the nation to invest
My role as Head of Personal Investing is a new one for the firm, with a big ambition: to engage the nation to invest – particularly women and young people. Many people are reluctant, bored or scared by investments, or think it’s something that you need thousands of pounds to do, which isn’t true at all. We’re all invested in aspects of our lives – our homes, our children, our careers, our health – and we need to add financial wellbeing to that list so more of us can feel secure about our financial future.
We haven’t launched our new personal investing platform yet, but the first release will be in June, and my colleagues and I are hard at work on all aspects of that – ranging from the technology to make investing more straightforward, to different ways of engaging with those who haven’t invested before. I would just love to see far more people feeling confident that they will be able to afford a deposit on a flat, pay for a wedding or be comfortable when they retire. That, for me, is an exciting prospect!
30% Club – an initiative that has helped double the proportion of women on UK company boards – came about as a result of the financial crisis. At the time, nearly 90% of board directors were men, and often very similarly-educated, white, affluent men, too.
As the regulators identified in their review of the failure of RBS, this similarly led to ‘groupthink’, not just people agreeing with each other, but shutting out dissenting opinions. I’d been running a rather unsuccessful women’s network at my own company but realised this was a moment to seize to try to do something a bit different. The members of the Club are the chairmen of companies – and when we launched in 2010, 99 of the FTSE100 chairmen were men!
Getting them involved (which wasn’t always easy) made a breakthrough possible. Women talking to women about women’s issues can make us feel less isolated but won’t get us actually promoted. It was amazing seeing how much progress could be made when men and women worked together to create the change.
I stepped down from running the 30% Club in 2015 but remain involved as a mentor on the cross-company mentoring programme (which has over 2,000 participants from 100 organisations this year), a speaker at events and with the US chapter (there are now ten 30% Clubs around the world).
Aiming for true gender equality
I’ve worked in the City for 30 years and though it may sound implausibly neat, my experiences fit into three distinct decades. The first, starting in the late 1980s, was an environment openly hostile to women. Sexual harassment and discrimination were widespread, and it felt quite intimidating to very often be the only woman in the room. I was managing international bond funds and my competition weren’t just all men, they were all called Paul!
The second decade was so much better for me personally because I was at a company were diversity was really welcomed, but in the wider industry I’d say women were more tolerated than welcomed. With legislation coming down the tracks, employers could see the need to offer equal opportunities but there was little sense that women might bring something additional to the thinking, and I think many women felt the need to fit in with the status quo, to be honorary men.
The third decade was one of real progress, catalysed by the financial crisis – suddenly, there was a real awareness of the benefits of diversity and many new gender diversity initiatives. It’s unfinished business, though.
I think we’re on the brink of a fourth really exciting phase, where we can and should aim higher, for true gender equality. Working practices are changing, for both men and women of course, as companies embrace technology, which is liberating.
Increasingly, too, there’s a more sophisticated approach to diversity, a focus on diversity of thought, not just identity, reducing the association with political correctness, which has been limiting. I think there is another moment to seize today – to really shake up our roles and approaches to living as well as working, and become real partners with men, leaving many centuries of patriarchy behind.
Organising a 50/50 gender split event to raise funds for the charities forced to turn down donations from this year’s Presidents Club dinner
The original idea of one event in London has actually grown to be six events across the country, starting with a dinner on the opening night of the Chelsea Flower Show, 21st May and ending with the Lord Mayor’s ‘Grand Finale’ at the Guildhall on 29th October. In between, events will be hosted in Cardiff, Edinburgh, Manchester and Belfast, all under the banner Diverse City.
I think many of us had many different – and strong – reactions to the sordid revelations about the Presidents Club dinner, not only did it seem extraordinary that this type of behaviour was still occurring in 2018 (when anything and everything is discoverable!) but sad that so many charities would lose out.
I chair the Diversity Project, which aims to improve diversity across all dimensions in the investment industry, and one of my colleagues, Sarah Bates, dropped me an email titled ‘just a passing thought’ and tentatively suggested the Diversity Project could do something about this – and I immediately thought “yes!” – we should organise an event to replace the monies, something to repair the damage and not just moan about it.
I wrote to all the CEOs who support the Diversity Project for their reactions. Within a few hours, it was clear there was enough support to start planning, and a few days later it was clear that we should make this bigger, more inclusive across the country, and of course make sure the events are modern in every respect – no sexist auctioneers or waitresses-only table service. We’re going to raise money for local diversity charities, as well as replace those foregone as a result of the Presidents Club dinner.
Why it’s essential to create the change we want to see
The 30% Club experience taught me that we can create the change we want to see. I am dismayed by the idea that talented young people will be put off even considering a City career because they think it’s an old-fashioned, predatory environment. Not only might that discourage them from pursuing a career they might actually enjoy, but it will impede further progress around City culture, which is so important.
The City has not yet managed to regain trust ten years after the financial crisis and we are not going to, if we don’t work harder to explain what it is we actually do and how most people really are focused on delivering good results for customers. There are still pockets of retro behaviour, of course, but the pendulum has swung in a very positive way.
How Womanthology readers show their support for Diverse City
The response has been really overwhelmingly positive and I am optimistic that we can raise a good sum of money – and perhaps make this an annual series of events, held in different cities each year. If you want to find out more or get involved at any of the events, please go to: http://diversityproject.com/diverse-city.
Coming up next
As well as the launch of Legal & General Investment Management’s personal investing platform in the summer, my recent book, A Good Time to be a Girl: Don’t Lean In, Change the System, will be published more widely over the next couple of months, including in the US and Canada and I’m looking forward to discussing the topic there. This year certainly feels like the Year of the Woman!
My role as a serial mother – and now a grandmother (my grandson, Julian, was born on Christmas Day last year so is now three months old) – means there’s always something coming up next! Over the summer we will all be together quite a lot, which I love, and there are a few children changing or leaving school, onto the next big phase in their lives. It’s energising, not always easy, but definitely my most important and joyful role.
Keeping the window open
CONNECTING SHORT-TERM ECONOMIC RESPONSES WITH LONG-TERM EMPOWERMENT SUPPORT FOR WOMEN
Today, Women for Women International with the LSE Centre for Women, Peace and Security and the Gender Action for Peace and Security launched a research report that looks at the livelihood needs and opportunities of Syrian women refugees and internally displaced women in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI), predominantly based on interviews and discussions with those women.
Many of the people living in KRI have been displaced for years with little prospect of returning ‘home’ in the near-future. Iraqis, like Raja, have been displaced multiple times. Some have built houses in ‘camps’ and others live in host communities. In this context, everyone has to work.
RAJA IS A 30-YEAR-OLD IRAQI INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSON WITH 5 CHILDREN
Since 2008, Raja has been intermittently displaced by conflict in Iraq. She has been raising her 5 children alone in a camp for internally displaced people in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq since 2015.
“Before, women only did housework, there weren’t any jobs or training courses for them – only men worked. Now, here in the camp, women are working and men are staying at home because there is no work for men.”
For women, this necessity can be a window of opportunity – allowing them to gain confidence, status and independence as well as more freedom of movement than they would have previously been allowed.
Desperation for the household can override the discrimination that women previously faced and lead to changes in people’s perceptions around what women should or shouldn’t do. And this is not unique to the women in KRI: we saw this in the UK in the First World War where women started working like never before – an important catalyst for some women getting the right to vote in the UK in 1918.
“I never thought that one day I’d work – there were very few working women back in Syria, apart from some seamstresses and hairdressers. But now it is different – in the KRI, Syrian women are working more than men. It is no longer considered shameful for a woman to support the family.” Alia, Syrian refugee
This window, however, can quickly close and all progress in improving gender norms can be lost. The challenge, therefore, is to ensure that short-term support for women’s economic participation (e.g. livelihood support or cash transfers) is connected to a longer-term vision for women’s economic empowerment. This means that women are not only earning money, but are also able to make or influence decisions about how that money is saved, spent or invested as well as broader economic decisions in their communities.
For this research, we spoke to a wide variety of women affected by conflict and their voices were clear: this window has to stay open. Over the last year, Women for Women International has been working with Raja and Alia and 1,527 other women in KRI supporting their economic empowerment and access to services and we are deeply concerned by the reduction in international support for them and the lack of meaningful engagement with women to understand their needs.
WHAT INTERNATIONAL GOVERNMENTS AND DONORS SHOULD DO
Based on the findings from our research, we are calling on international governments and donors to increase and clearly link short-term economic support for women with a longer, more sustainable approach to women’s economic empowerment. This must include:
- Prioritising holistic support for women by ensuring that livelihood support is complemented by improving women’s access to services and providing women’s rights education;
- Supporting women’s leadership and urgently increasing funding for women’s rights organisations so that they can provide vital, needs-based long-term and varied programming.
- Supporting women’s economic programmes that include men to help change harmful norms.
- Building political and institutional support for both women’s economic empowerment and funding local and international organisations that provide such support.
We will be taking these findings forward as we work with the UK Government to deliver on its commitments, including the new National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security and Strategic Vision for Gender Equality.