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Victoria Mars and Head of UN Foundation Co-Host Women Leaders Discussion

It’s a distressing projection: it will take women 202 years to be on even footing with men. This, according to a recent World Economic Forum report showing women are disproportionately affected by poverty, climate-related risks, and other barriers to sustainable development.

Against that backdrop, our Board Member and former Board Chair Victoria Mars spoke at last week’s Mars and United Nations Foundation’s co-hosted panel, Women Leaders Advancing Sustainability, where she helped shine a light on women’s leadership delivering long-term benefits for business, society and the environment.

Just ahead of our Women of Mars campaign this spring and in our own backyard—Washington D.C.— Victoria joined the UN Foundation’s President and Chief Executive Officer, Kathy Calvin, as well as Naoko Ishii, CEO and Chairperson for the Global Environment Facility, Radha Muthiah, President and CEO of the Capital Area Food Bank, and moderator Ann Compton, a former news reporter and long-time White House correspondent for ABC News Radio.

Kathy set the tone for the gathering with an African proverb: if we wish to move mountains tomorrow, we must lift stones today. For her part, Victoria was steadfast in building awareness and momentum for our Sustainable in a Generation Plan, our continuing efforts to unlock opportunities for women, and our support of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

She emphasized in particular the goals of the Thriving People pillar of our sustainability plan: respecting human rights, improving incomes for smallholder farmers and unlocking opportunities for women. As women are at the core of our approach to our Thriving People agenda, Victoria said, women themselves are critical to help drive the change in each of these areas.

”Women work in our supply chain, they drive purchasing decisions in families, and they serve in our company as Associates and business leaders” she said.

And while we’ve made advancements — as with our programs for female farmers, and mentoring women at Mars, where 42 percent of our leadership is female — we’re still fighting a system of cultural bias. In the fields and  in the boardroom.

Studies show:

  • Women make up more than 50% of the population but own just 1% of the world's wealth.
  • Some women still lack rights to own land or to inherit property, obtain credit or earn income.
  • In legislatures around the world, women are outnumbered 4 to 1, with even lower percentages on corporate boards and in head offices.

Yet, as panel members pointed out, women's political and societal participation is crucial for achieving equality—and genuine democracy. Closing the gender gap is not a side issue. It’s an economic and social necessity. Programs and policies designed to reduce bias and ensure fairness don’t just benefit women. They benefit everyone.

Near the close of the session, the moderator asked each panelist to share a new year’s resolution to advance gender equity and sustainability.

“It’s time that each of us in this room makes it a priority within our organizations to be allies, advocates, and mentors for women in our realms of influence,” Victoria said. “We must educate, empower and support women… we all need to be empowered to speak up and allow our voices to be heard, because it is only when women’s voices are respected that we will be able to drive the system change that is needed to reach gender parity.”

The UN Secretary General has declared 2019 a “year of action” with distinct focus on women and climate action and priority emphasis on peace, human rights, and advancement of economic and social wellbeing for people around the world. Watch for these upcoming sustainability events where we’ll also be playing a visible role: the World Ocean Summit in Abu Dhabi in March, the U.S. National Climate Leadership Conference where Mars is being considered for an award, and the UN’s 63rd Commission on Women.

Kaysie Brown (UNF) and Lisa Manley (Mars) issued a joint blog with highlights from the discussion, including a call to action to change power systems in order to save the planet.