7 minute read 5 Mar 2021
Dr Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, Susan Chong, Noella Musunka

How to take gender equity from remote possibility to virtual certainty

By Stasia Mitchell

EY Global Entrepreneurship Leader

Helping entrepreneurs connect, contribute to their businesses and make the world better. Strong advocate for women-owned companies and women business leaders.

7 minute read 5 Mar 2021

This International Women’s Day, we can turn the “she-cession” spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic into a woman-powered boom.

In brief
  • Millions of women have been pushed out of the workforce during the pandemic and risk being left behind.
  • But there’s good news. Women entrepreneurs are leading the way toward new opportunities and closer to gender equity.

Iam excited to be celebrating International Women’s Day with you all this year. At the heart of this day is recognizing the achievements of women around the world and taking action to unleash even more of that potential — until every woman knows #SheBelongs.

It’s been important for me to reflect on how obstacles can be rungs on new ladders; how staying curious and listening, tapping into collective minds at work, and relying on others charts a course of possibilities; and how global innovation, in the face of this crisis, can hold the keys for women to take their place as architects of our digital future.

In the words of EY World Entrepreneur Of The Year 2020 Dr. Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, “It’s up to us, in the corporate world, to make that extra effort to provide women leadership opportunities ... I have taken those bets on people, and it’s worked.” So many women have had a pivotal role in reframing our future. Leaders have long since known what it takes to “pivot businesses at a time of a global pandemic,” Dr. Mazumdar-Shaw said, having led her intrepid R&D team at Biocon to effectively save thousands of lives long before vaccines were viable.

It’s up to us, in the corporate world, to make that extra effort to provide women leadership opportunities.
Dr. Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw
EY World Entrepreneur Of The Year 2020

But for every woman making headlines, there are millions of others: unheard, untold stories that we only encounter in abstract statistics, as countless women, pushed out of the workforce, risk becoming hidden figures in this so-called “she-cession” of our time. This “…perfect storm for women workers,” won’t pass on its own, as “the longer we wait to act, the harder it will be to bring those millions of women back into the workforce,” US Vice President Kamala Harris reminded us recently in an opinion piece for the Washington Post. This is our chance to shape those headwinds before history is set in stone.

Maybe some of us were born ready to pivot, but I believe most of us build that muscle over time. Dr. Mazumdar-Shaw certainly did. Determined to follow in her brewmaster father’s footsteps, she worked to earn international recognition as a Master Brewer, only to face rejection back home from a male-dominated industry. 

Undeterred, she used that obstacle as a springboard, applying her scientific genius to rise above, successfully launch Biocon - now a multi-billion dollar organization, the largest of its kind in India — and make life-saving medications affordable for billions more people. As CEO Magazine recently named her among the 16 most influential women in the world, we can all hope her example, and pivot, inspires many more.

I’m reminded of mothers, founders and executives, who consistently put their energy and focus on solutions that ensure a healthier, sustainable world for future generations.

Founders like Singapore’s Susan Chong who, as her youngest of four children reached four years old, founded Greenpac to meet surging global demand for packaging with a sustainable, and profitable, alternative. Despite the well-known challenges that come with juggling family and work and the extraordinary levels so many female leaders go through to prove themselves in industries historically dominated by men, Chong built her business on the belief that sustainability was not only the right thing to do but the smart business move as well. Now, years later, her example is one of many, making the competitive advantage of early intuition and action in the right direction clear to the entrepreneurial and investment community.

With little preparation, age-old businesses have become digital powerhouses in response to a global pandemic. Now, we must address equity with the same level of urgency and many of the tools that made 2020 possible in the first place. Even as technology enables unprecedented global collaboration, pressures of remote life have pushed a myriad of women to a breaking point, pausing their careers so they might carry the “glass balls” of family life that they alone are expected to safeguard. It’s time, now, to advance equity in our thinking and planning for the overwhelming work we’ll need to serve the post-pandemic world we’re building together because, as Malala Yousafzai reminds us, “we cannot all succeed when half of us are held back.”

'You'll Never Walk Alone’

When I see the powerful connections and capital shared in networks like YPO, I’m blown away by the immediate impact so many are ready and willing to make, to share knowledge and resources, especially if it means empowering women. Their promise, “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” has been a tremendous source of strength and inspiration for myself and so many others, because we all deserve to have this strength and support.

Noella Coursaris Musunka understands the profound power of community. Where many would have left poverty and peril in the past, she returned to witness the obstacles to education for girls in her native Democratic Republic of Congo, and chose to leverage the platform she built through her successful modeling career to elevate and serve communities of girls just like her with her Malaika Foundation.

While we may not all aspire to be runway models like Coursaris Musunka, we can all be role models. We can use our stumbling blocks as stepping stones, offer up raw, unrefined opportunities instead of polishing our points, and invite brilliant, collaborative minds in our community to unleash unexpected, extraordinary solutions. We can all find ways to support progress as partners of change, as progress towards equity is a win for all. Let’s not wait for the next invitation to help, or say we’re here when needed; instead, let’s go out and extend those invitations and opportunities everywhere we can, today.

Let’s not wait for the next invitation to help, or say we’re here when needed; instead, let’s go out and extend those invitations and opportunities everywhere we can, today.
Stasia Mitchell
EY Global Entrepreneurship Leader

The world is watching women leaders, and with good reason: they show us what it means to persevere in the face of inordinate, unequal obstacles. As women, with the wondrous power to bring forth new life, we are born to be brave and build better, more sustainable worlds. As we face this she-cession, let’s see the obstacle ahead as the step it can and will be: the rung on a new ladder, to climb past shattered glass ceilings, until the world hears and feels the collective “she-boom” we will all make.

This month let’s celebrate all the extraordinary women in our lives, and together, this year, let’s do everything we can to finally move gender equity from ambition to reality.

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Summary

On this International Women’s day, we celebrate the women who are leading the world out of this dark winter. Women around the globe are progressing us toward a more sustainable and equitable future – a world where #SheBelongs

About this article

By Stasia Mitchell

EY Global Entrepreneurship Leader

Helping entrepreneurs connect, contribute to their businesses and make the world better. Strong advocate for women-owned companies and women business leaders.