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Women Can’t Afford Any More Setbacks on Gender Equality

Originally published on LinkedIn by Fiona Dawson, Global President Food, Multisales and Global Customers at Mars.

I admit, I was one of the many who watched the clock on December 31, 2020, with bated breath.  Like much of the world, I saw the New Year as a chance to reset and reposition from the terrible challenges presented in 2020. And whilst the turn of the clock has done little to overcome the pandemic, political turmoil or inequity faced across the globe, 2021 brings a new year and new opportunity for us to take action and help shape a better world tomorrow.

Of course, we know – have always known deep down – that seeing those changes realized is down to us, particularly in creating an environment where true gender equality is possible. 

Globally, the United Nations’ estimated that it may take more than a century to close the gender opportunity gap. Despite women making up 51% of the world's population and having the potential to contribute $28 trillion to the global GDP, they only hold 32% of the wealth accumulated by men. And for women of color, the situation is worse: they hold mere pennies to every dollar that white men hold.

And now, as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, the march for gender equality has been set back another 25 years, with its impact being particularly devasting for women in minority groups who, for far too long, have not been centered in this conversation.

Globally, the impact on women in business has also been far reaching, threatening an entire generation of opportunity. According to a 2020 Global State of Small Business survey, women were overwhelmingly more likely to close their businesses as a result of the COVID pandemic than men were. Within the workplace, mothers and women of color in particular have disproportionately shouldered the mental and physical tolls of the pandemic, having been forced to make an unfair choice between caring for their families or advancing their careers. A study by McKinsey and found that at least one in four women are considering downsizing their careers or leaving the workforce due to challenges created by the pandemic.

The situation has never been more dire – or opportune – for the world to embrace all that women can contribute when operating at their full potential. And progress is being made. Just last week the world watched Kamala Harris shatter several glass ceilings as the first woman in U.S. history to become Vice President.

But we can’t afford any more setbacks, and we shouldn’t accept them. When women are dismissed or denied equal opportunity, the world suffers economically and it keeps us from achieving our goals for education, health and well-being, and overall peace and prosperity. Global business can, and should, have a substantial role in driving change. We must seize this moment to expand the conversation and take long overdue action.

At Mars, women have played a powerful role in our history and leadership for the past 100 years. This past November, our CEO Grant Reid signed the U.N. Women’s Empowerment Principles to promote gender equality at Mars, where over half of our 130,000 Associates are women. We then launched our Full Potential platform to drive gender equity in the three spaces where we have the most influence: the workplace, sourcing communities and in the marketplace.

We know we can’t do it alone. If we’re to drive change at scale, we need to include the voices of all women. To help amplify those voices, we’re launching #HereToBeHeard—a new global crowdsourcing movement aimed at capturing voices of women from all walks of life to help inform the actions global businesses and society must take to close the gender opportunity gap.

The first stage of this movement starts today. We’re asking that women from around the world join us by answering this question: “What needs to change so more women can reach their full potential?”

#HereToBeHeard is truly a global call to action. In order to ensure that every woman’s voices is heard, we must consider the diversity of our backgrounds, our talent and our experiences. Through this effort, we are putting inclusivity and diversity at the heart of it to drive gender equality at all intersections—race, age, sexuality, religion and ability—going forward.

This isn’t just about listening, though; it’s about making real change. Our partners at the Oxford Future of Marketing Initiative (FOMI)—housed within Oxford University’s Saïd Business School—will analyze the responses, and together we will share their findings with the world. We plan to develop significant insights and resources for people and businesses to help inspire tangible action. At Mars, the results will inform how we can make meaningful and measurable changes in our workplace, our marketplace, and throughout our value chain.

By investing in the lives and livelihoods of women and girls, we can help break systemic barriers to opportunity. We want to shape a better, fairer future for women—in turn creating a better world for everyone. That begins with your voice.

I am hopeful that this year can be different year can be different. We’ll be listening.