I do love a new year. Our communal global birthday, January 1, is always fresher and more exciting than December 31 (Times-Square-ball-drop-worldwide-noisemaking-and-all). January 1 seems a license renewal, an opportunity to re-energize an old commitment, or start something afresh. Sometimes the inspiration for what to focus on comes in the closing days of the waning year.
For me, one of the most inspirational events of 2010 took place in late November in Seoul, Korea. Conferences are sometimes just gatherings, but the Global Women's Leadership Forum completely energized both its audience and its speakers in its commitment to a large, complex, important, and positive change. I had the honor of being a guest speaker at the event, sponsored by The Korean Times (Hankook Ilbo, in Korean). The purpose of the gathering: to bring together a full range of people from around the world interested in helping South Korea take a giant step forward in opening up to women leadership positions in business, government, and society.
These people included Condoleeza Rice (former U.S. Secretary of State); Laura Tyson (former U.S. Chief Economic Advisor); Dame Jenny Shipley (former Prime Minister of New Zealand); Lorna Davis (CEO of Kraft Food in China); Her Excellency Najla Al Awadhi (member of Parliament in the UAE); Dr. Oh-Seok Hyun (President of Korea Development Institute)—the list goes on and on.
Why this effort? Because the smart money in South Korea knows that countries that integrate women throughout society excel on any number of economic, health and social measures, and that countries that leave women out lag consistently and profoundly (think Iceland or Norway versus, say, the Sudan or Yemen). While Korea has advanced impressively in economic power in the last 30 years, it currently ranks 102nd in the World Economic Forum's Gender Gap rankings and rightly views that gap as a brake on realizing its further potential.
What were the main takeaways? Change requires:
1. Powerful sponsorship (often male) willing to address sensitive and often unpopular issues.
2. Enabling legislation to create a structure and process for change.
3. Deliberate attempts to shift the culture not just "let it happen organically". Shifts in power and influence require leadership.
4. Strong, active and organized female participation because many people, especially women, must own the solution and be willing to help themselves.
5. Creative engagement of outside ideas that bring new approaches and inspiration.
Here's a piece in English in the Korean Times for further information.