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50x50 @ 5 Years

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The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars

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Celebrating 5 years of the 50x50 Movement

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The Women in Public Service Project (WPSP) celebrated its five-year anniversary by hosting a luncheon conversation about the data and partnerships necessary to achieve our 50x50 goal on Wednesday, December 7. The event convened leaders from the public and private sectors to discuss the roles of data and public-private partnerships in the movement toward global parity in public service leadership. This conversation took place through three panels and a musical performance from Madame Gandhi, and continued beyond the event through  podcasts recorded by Natalia Brzezinski, host of Brilliant Minds podcast.


The event began with remarks from WPSP Director Gwen K. Young. Ms. Young reiterated the mission of WPSP: “We are working to leverage the full potential of the population and to ensure that there is equal representation in policy and political leadership positions across the globe. We’re looking for dynamic and inclusive institutions, and we’re looking to change the way global solutions are forged, and today is all about that.” In its five years, WPSP has trained over a thousand women through leadership institutions across the globe and worked with over 90 research partners. Currently, “We are building the definitive and most comprehensive dataset of where women are in governments at every level and across every sector,” stated Ms. Young.

The 50x50 Vision

Jay Newton-Small, a Washington correspondent for TIME and the author of Broad Influence: How Women Are Changing the Way America Works, facilitated a discussion between Ms. Young and The Honorable Jane Harman, Director, President and CEO of the Wilson Center. Ms. Harman spoke about her experience bringing WPSP to the Wilson Center when she took the position: “It took a village – I didn’t do it singularly.” She remarked that she is the first woman to be President and CEO of the Center since its inception 50 years ago, “so why wouldn’t it leap out that we ought to have a big, terrific women’s platform?” Ms. Harman praised the founding members and institutions who launched the project in 2011: “The power of the Seven Sisters colleges and others to form this was just unmistakable, and when we were lucky enough to move it here from the State Department, it took off.”

Following Ms. Harman’s discussion about the evolution of the Project, Ms. Newton-Small asked Ms. Young about its future. Ms. Young emphasized the importance of the 50x50 mission: “Women are over 50% of the population, so why shouldn’t they be in 50% of the decision-making positions? It’s about parity and equity.” However, she noted, we need data and an evidence base in order to enable and empower women to reach this goal. “We’re going to use the data,” Ms. Young said of the Project’s renewed vision, “we’re going to analyze the data, we’re going to make it accessible, and we’re going to do the research.”

Ms. Newton-Small noted that women can have “an enormous impact” on policy if they can reach a “critical mass somewhere between 20 and 30 percent.” Ms. Newton-Small commended Ms. Harman and Ms. Young for their efforts working toward this critical mass and beyond. Ms. Young remarked that this critical mass can only be reached through conversations such as those taking place at the event. “We’re honored to have these great and amazing panels,” she said.

Ms. Harman noted that the Wilson Center is the first think tank to be EDGE certified. “This energy, this commitment, is central to why I’m here,” she said to Ms. Young. “It really excites me that we have found the formula to take off for the next five years, so congratulations to you.”

The Transformative Power of Data: Where is the Data?

Following lunch, Laura Cox Kaplan, corporate and non-profit board member and former Partner-in-Charge of Public Policy at PricewaterhouseCoopers, LLP (PwC), moderated a panel on how data accelerates gender parity.

Debbie Walsh, Director for the Center for American Women in Politics (CAWP) at the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University, said that when the CAWP was founded, no data was available on women in government.  There were few women in office and running for office, and “we didn’t really know anything about those women,” she said. With data, they were able to find that women are less likely to run with encouragement from others, and when they do run, they often do it for different reasons: men are more likely to run because of a lifelong aspiration to be a politician, while women are often brought into politics to act on a specific cause.

Pelle Lutken, Policy Specialist at the United Nationals Development Programme (UNDP), noted that at the UNDP, gender is a consideration in everything they do. “The way we approach gender equality at UNDP is that it’s really the business of everyone,” he said, “The way we approach governance and peacebuilding is inseparable from gender equality.” Mr. Lutken highlighted the UNDP Gender Equality in Public Administration initiative, which was created to fill the gap in data on women in civil service positions. This lack of data, said Mr. Lutken, makes it difficult for UNDP to advocate for change and gender parity in global leadership.

Barri Rafferty, President and Partner at Ketchum, provided a perspective from the private sector. “I wish I could say the corporate story was different than the public policy story, but it’s not,” said Ms. Rafferty. She noted that the World Economic Forum the previous year was comprised of only 17% women.

“For me, numbers matter,” said Ms. Rafferty, “Numbers matter in your own organizations. Are you doing things to change those numbers?” Ms. Rafferty also emphasized the importance of personal branding and networking, noting that men are more likely to appear on TV or be quoted in articles even though there are many qualified women who could do so.

Ms. Kaplan noted that a study by PwC found that 90% of firms surveyed said they had implemented diversity programs and “improved the bottom line” – but “this statistic is still not moving the needle.” Ms. Rafferty agreed, pointing out “there is a lot of unconscious bias in the system,” and that “it’s not only about diversity – it’s about inclusion.”

Leocadia I. Zak, Director of the U.S. Trade and Development Agency (USTDA), agreed data is important for strategic planning and project management. However, said Ms. Zak, what’s important is how the data is used. “We have to be very careful with respect to how much we focus on the data gathering itself, versus the fact that a lot of it is about relationship-building,” she cautioned. “Especially for women in public service, it’s important for us to focus on the results.” Ms. Zak also spoke about the importance of inclusion in the conversation, saying that it’s important to mentor men. “It's not just about women and what they do. It's about how they're received," asserted Ms. Zak.

Ms. Kaplan concluded the panel by inviting the speakers to give advice to the audience. Ms. Walsh said that “we need to look at the women that we know and encourage them to run for office,” noting that there has been “an overwhelming flood” of interest in running for office among women in the United States. Ms. Zak emphasized the importance of mentoring among both men and women: “the next generation can make a difference, but we have to hold both accountable.” Ms. Zak added, “we are great, and we deserve to be at the table … it’s all about who’s the best, and often times we are.” Finally, Mr. Lutken noted that the Sustainable Development Goals are “the first time we have a specific target on equal representation in public institutions,” and emphasized the importance of partnerships in achieving this goal.

Numbers Matter: 30% and What the Public Sector Can Learn from the Private Sector.

Monica Oldham, Program Manager for Diversity and Inclusion at The World Bank, moderated a panel with leaders from the private sector on lessons learned regarding gender parity in business leadership. She emphasized the question of the impact of having more women in the private sector, noting that “there are a lot of things happening in the private sector that the public sector can learn from.”

Curtis L. Etherly, Director of Federal Government Affairs and International Stakeholder Relations (Africa) at The Coca-Cola Company said that women are essential to business and “having that perspective at the table makes such a critical difference.” Also important, asserted Mr. Etherly, is the “entirely different paradigm” of millennial women leaders: “today, women’s leadership is not your grandmother’s notion thereof.” Mr. Etherly also discussed the “50by20” initiative of the Coca-Cola Company, a commitment to empower 5 million women economically by 2020. This initiative, he said, highlights the importance of public-private partnerships to drive global change.

Rebecca Caruso, Vice President of Communications, Diversity and Inclusion at L’Oreal USA emphasized that diversity strengthens companies: “If you get the same thinking, you get the same products – and there’s nothing exciting about that.”

When asked by Ms. Oldham about the EDGE certification process, Ms. Caruso praised the comprehensive nature of the certification. “The beauty of the EDGE process is that it tells the whole story … every time you make a stride, there’s something else you need to work on.” Specifically, she highlighted the implementation of policy changes such as paternity leave.

Katarina Berg, Chief Human Resources Officer at Spotify, commended the public sector on progress toward gender parity. “There is a lot of things we can learn from the public side. With that said, there is a lot of work to do.” Ms. Berg then described Spotify’s approach to the issue of equality: "We try to not just talk about diversity. We try to talk about pushing inclusion … a good idea needs to be a good idea, no matter who says it."

Ms. Oldham commended Ms. Berg and Spotify on implementing a 6-month parental leave policy for both men and women, and asked what others in both the public and private sector could learn from this. “The question is always ‘why would you do this when you don’t have to?’ and our answer is because it’s the right thing to do. Full stop,” asserted Ms. Berg. She attributed this culture to the Swedish roots and values of the company. However, she noted that many companies in the United States are also pursuing more comprehensive family leave policies. “It’s going to be very expensive not to do this – for companies, organizations and societies,” she said.

Sukhinder Singh Cassidy, founder and CEO of JOYUS and founder of #choosepossibility and theBoardlist, a database of qualified women candidates for boards, emphasized the value of technology in promoting gender parity through pipeline management, self-reporting, and data collection. Specifically, platforms such as theBoardlist could be implemented in the public sector to amplify and leverage relationships and “crowdsource” qualified women. “We want to take that woman who is unfamiliar to you and make her familiar,” Ms. Cassidy said, “it’s about building a pipeline quickly and sourcing it from multiple sources.”

To conclude the panel, Ms. Oldham asked the panelists how to address the criticism that gender diversity initiatives encourage hiring women “for the sake of hiring women”: “For a lot of people, when they hear ‘numbers,’ they hear ‘quota’… how do we address the fact that we are hiring people who are qualified who happen to be men or women?”

Ms. Cassidy noted that often companies or sectors will only begin self-reporting when pressured to do so. “Self-reporting is preferable,” said Ms. Cassidy, but sometimes “the threat of quotas” or naming-and-shaming is an effective way to encourage self-reporting. Ms. Berg highlighted three points to address bias: talent acquisition and diversifying the pipeline, comprehensive bias training, and taking steps to ensure a gender-diverse workforce because “to hire more women isn’t to lower the bar, it’s to raise the bar.”

Ms. Caruso added that “transparency is key … being up front about where you are gives credibility to the work you are doing.” Finally, Mr. Etherly emphasized that gender diversity should be a part of every business decision. “This is not a niche conversation, this is not a silo conversation … it’s intimately tied to our business.”

Women Disrupters: The Bold Voices Changing the Game of Politics Globally

Pamela Reeves, Senior Fellow at Brown University and Senior Advisor at the Office of Melinda Gates, moderated the final panel. The discussion focused on what global changemakers are doing to bring the world closer to gender parity in public service leadership. “The data shows us that this is a long haul,” said Ms. Reeves, “but these people with me are changemakers and multipliers.”

Ambassador Björn Lyrvall, Ambassador of Sweden to the United States, spoke about the different culture around gender equality and representation in Sweden. Ambassador Lyrvall commented on his government’s “feminist foreign policy,” noting that “this is certainly not just a thematic issue … it’s an agenda for change.” He emphasized that women’s equality “is not only the morally right thing to do, but also the economically smart thing to do,” and that the conversation about gender equality should be a global one.

When Ms. Reeves asked whether Sweden’s gender policies could be equally successful in less homogenous societies, Mr. Lyrvall responded that despite the influx of refugees and subsequent diversification of the population, “we have seen a steady progression toward a more gender-equal society.” Indeed, said Ambassador Lyrvall, it is “inconceivable” to imagine a political leader not aiming for a 50/50 balance in the government.

The Honorable Larui J. Fitz-Pegado, Partner at The Livingston Group, emphasized the importance of intersectionality in the movement toward global gender parity. “We cannot see ourselves as an amorphous women’s movement,” she said. Global stakeholders and supporters must learn about and respect differences in race, religion, and other kinds of identities. “I consider myself a person of color before a woman,” she said, emphasizing the importance of inclusion in working toward the 50x50 goal.

Ms. Reeves asked Ms. Fitz-Pegado whether she has experienced misogyny in her work across sectors. Ms. Fitz-Pegado noted “we still have huge problems all around the world” with gender bias, and the key to addressing these issues is involving men in the conversation. “If we are only speaking among ourselves, we have a problem,” Ms. Fitz-Pegado noted – the conversation needs to engage everyone, including men.

The Honorable Dr. Claudia Escobar, Former Magistrate of the Court of Appeals of Guatemala, spoke about her experience as an advocate for judicial independence in Guatemala and globally. She discussed her own encounters with corruption and intimidation in the judicial system, which ultimately led her to claim a violation of judicial independence and publicly resign from her position during the court of appeals elections in 2014. Dr. Escobar described the threats against her and attempts to discredit her during the denunciation process as “the beginning of the journey that has brought me here,” promoting judicial independence and fighting corruption.

Ms. Reeves asked Dr. Escobar “whether having women in leadership positions changes outcomes,” noting that the last two attorneys general in Guatemala have been women. “I think that women are more aware of the problems the country is facing,” said Dr. Escobar, emphasizing that women and girls should have the same economic, educational, and political opportunities as men.

Yomi Abiola, Founder of The Fem League and Stand Up for Fashion shared her experience as an activist and entrepreneur. "It's essential to know that we can grow and 50 by 50 is actually a place we can reach," she said. Ms. Abiola then described her work establishing The Fem League, an impact media company amplifying the voices of women. When Ms. Reeves asked, “do we need a call for new voices?” Ms. Abiola echoed other panelists’ assertion that “men must be included in the conversation, and re-education is essential.” Further, she said, “the re-introduction of new environments, of diverse points of view, will support us in creating a new foundation we can build together.”

Conclusion: 50x50 Going Forward

The event concluded with a speech and musical performance by artist and activist Kiran Gandhi, performing as Madame Gandhi. Ms. Gandhi said that going to an all-girls K-12 school, “I didn’t think feminism was an issue” because everyone—including the leaders—were girls. However, she said, this perception changed when she attended Georgetown University as an undergraduate. She spoke about the impact a women’s studies class in college had on her, calling women’s studies a “powerful subject,” and how she broke into music as a form of feminist activism. She explained that in her education, as an MBA student at Harvard, she learned the importance of “owning your voice.” “How do I elevate and celebrate the female voice to empower those who I work with?” she asked.

Following a musical performance by Madame Gandhi, Gwen K. Young gave closing remarks. “I look forward to working with all of you in the future,” said Ms. Young, "please form that collaboration, that vision and energy that we need."

The Conversation Continues

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Ambassador Bjorn Lyrvall and Pelle Sjoenell on Brilliant Minds Podcast

The Honorable Jane Harman on Brilliant Minds Podcast

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