Gender inequality is a persistent problem for society. Here's how several highly influential women think we can begin to address it.
Rosie Rios notices when women are missing from the conversation. For Rios, the 43rd Treasurer of the United States, perhaps best known for her efforts to put Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill, the absence of women on U.S. paper currency is both a problem that needs correcting and a symptom of a larger condition.
Rios was the keynote speaker and one of many influential women to share their stories and perspectives at Morgan Stanley’s 2019 Private Wealth Management Women’s Summit in Washington, D.C.
At Treasury, Rios recalled, “I noticed that almost every single rendering and concept of a woman wasn’t of a real woman. They were all allegorical, like Lady Liberty,” she said. “But every representation of a man was of a real man: a founding father, a cabinet member, a president. If this is how we tell the story of our country, why are we missing half the population?”
Since exiting government, Rios has been leading efforts to change the way we acknowledge women’s place in American history. One of her biggest projects today: getting more public statues of women erected in the 10 largest U.S. cities, as well as Washington, D.C. and San Francisco, her hometown, by 2026—the 250th anniversary of the nation’s founding.
Rios looked forward to the unveiling of Central Park’s first statues of women, suffragists Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony and Sojourner Truth, for the 100th anniversary of women gaining the right to vote.1 She believes memorializing more great women this way will help “normalize our story.”
“It’s not just women’s history—it’s history.”
Held at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, the three-day summit brought together a diverse group of speakers and attendees to discuss some of today’s most pressing economic, political and social issues for women. Chief among them: addressing gender inequality.
In the U.S., for example, women were expected to control two-thirds of private wealth by 2020.2 Yet, at Fortune 500 companies, women hold just 22% of board seats and less than 5% of CEO posts.3
Lily Trager, Morgan Stanley Wealth Management Director of Investing with Impact and Head of Impact Solutions, sees growing interest in gender diversity as a financial consideration for investors. It can also be a way for investors to drive positive change with their capital.
Trager pointed to a growing body of research showing a correlation between a more diverse, inclusive workforce and strong financial performance. Morgan Stanley Research, for example, has found that companies with greater gender diversity than their sector peers show higher return on equity and lower return-on-equity volatility.4
Beyond gender, ensuring diversity more broadly can yield a competitive advantage for companies, noted Carla Harris, Morgan Stanley Vice Chairman and Managing Director. Diversity allows for the competitive perspectives essential to navigating the complex and dynamic issues companies face today, Harris said.
“At the end of the day, if you don’t have different voices at the table when you are making decisions, there is a gap in your go-to-market strategy,” she said. “You may be competitive for a little while, but you won’t obtain and retain the leadership position in the market.”
Still, to be sure, challenges remain for women in business.
Alice Vilma, Co-Head of Morgan Stanley’s Multicultural Innovation Lab, noted that women and people of color continue to face barriers starting businesses and raising capital to fund them. All told, the funding gap for multicultural- and women-owned businesses in the U.S. represents a missed opportunity of $4.4 trillion, according to Morgan Stanley research.5
Venture capital funds “that are not actively pursuing investments in women and multicultural founders may be leaving money on the table,” Vilma said.
Rios said she believes millennials and Gen-Z—generations now in their teens, 20s and 30s—hold the keys to building a world of greater equality.
“There is hope,” Rios said. “These kids think and learn very differently about the world because of access to technology and information. They want to make an impact. I am putting a lot of faith in this next generation, because they see the world exactly the way I want to see the world.”
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