DonPollard photo L-R EdithCooper MelanneVerveer LettyChiwara ChrisGrumm JackiZehnerAs we approach the end of International Women’s Month, I am reflecting on “the tipping point.”   In so many ways we are at its cusp, with all sectors recognizing that the empowerment of women and girls is the critical component globally not just for social development but for economic and military security.  Yet, in other ways we are not even close.  Chris Grumm, director of the Women’s Funding Network (WFN), crystallized this at pivotal moment during one of the many events held at or concurrent with the UN session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW).  She said “next year, bring a man with you and then we’ll really be at the tipping point.” Bingo!  Her words echoed my disappointment that women were the overwhelmingly majority at most of the gatherings. 

And, often women who I know, many for several decades: we were the choir preaching to ourselves. A week earlier, I’d been discussing this issue with Ginka Toegel, who heads “Breakthrough Strategies for Women Executives” at the international business school IMD  where I soon will be Executive-in-Residence on Responsible Leadership.

Our work now must be about “connecting the dots” not only between genders but among all types of stakeholders.  At the 20th anniversary symposium of the Center for Women’s Global Leadership (CWGL)  honoring its founder Charlotte Bunche, some spoke of capitalism as an enemy to be destroyed.  I believe it can be the most powerful engine for transformation when women truly are integrated fully into its decision-making and implementation gears.

Too many of the participants at events during the CSW represented governments and NGOs: not enough hailed from corporations.  Each sector has something very unique and vital to offer.  Through multi-sector partnerships, they each would benefit from the value-added of the other.  We no longer can afford to keep the extraordinary pockets of breakthrough women’s empowerment initiatives throughout the world isolated and segregated: we need to become connected and mainstreamed.

During the CSW, member states of the UN General Assembly were analyzing vital proposals about Gender Equality Architecture Reform (GEAR), including creating a UN gender equality entity led by an Under-Secretary-General.   In the US, President Obama appointed Melanne Verveer to serve as Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues  and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has made certain that gender is included in every aspect of her work.

Indeed, we still have the need for safe spaces in which women leaders from all fields can share with each other their frustrations at and solutions to not being at the main table.  Yet, until more men – from government, business and civil society – join in this conversation, we will remain marginalized on the sidelines.  

Photo taken by Don Pollard Photography at the National Council for Research on Women (NCRW), event hosted at Goldman Sachs and sponsored by Deloitte & Touche.

{ 10 comments… add one }

  • Gloria Feldt March 20, 2010, 8:42 pm

    Great Question, Nadine. I don’t see it as a tipping point (which is passive), but rather a fulcrum poised to move in the direction we push it. In other words, the answer to the question is “it’s up to us”, insofar as women in the Western and industrialized countries are concerned. The doors are open, but we have to walk through them ourselves and we have the responsibility to do it. Globally it’s more complicated of course, with great variance.
    However, if women ever see the power we have in our hands, we’ll be at parity in short order.

  • Jacki Zehner March 20, 2010, 9:26 pm

    I agree with Gloria. We, as women, have to fully utilize out power tools ( our money, our networks, our wisdom, our position) to make the change. We need the movement for gender equality to go mainstream. It is time.

  • Raghida Haddad March 21, 2010, 1:19 am

    Bring a man, bring a son, bring a daughter, bring a mother, bring a father, bring a sister; and as long as women keep inching along the way, the day will come when the word gender will only be used for medical reasons!!!!

    I write my comment from Qatar and its quite remarkable how much the past decade changed the landscape. Some women now hold ministerial positions, head corporations, senior managerial positions and leaders in the community. Is it enough, of course not!

  • Jeanne Browne (aka MizB) March 21, 2010, 6:19 pm

    Nadine — Of late, I feel out of sync with you and your colleagues, because I’ve been feeling very negative about politics and social change — nationally and globally. I agree that the empowerment of women, especially in poor and culturally misogynistic countries, is the most essential and effective route to a better life for women and men in all locales, but I don’t see that happening — largely because there are more women like me (feeling discouraged/defeated, or frightened, or apathetic, or even in accord with the men and systems that oppress them) than there are women like you (positive, determined, hopeful). I hesitated about leaving this comment, because the last thing that people who are struggling and hopeful need is some Cassandra mooing in the background. But I can’t help feeling as I do, particularly after Obama’s arduous first year and the public ugliness it’s aroused, as well as the increasingly horrific treatment of women worldwide. Maybe it’s better to fight to the end no matter the outcome than it is to be negative, and perhaps I’d feel differently if I were part of the larger community of proactive women. But feeling/being isolated as I do, I feel paralyzed. I wish you luck, sisters; I wish I had the inner and social strength to share your healthy, generous optimism.

  • Debbie Meyer March 21, 2010, 9:20 pm

    Dear Nadine,

    I learned so much from you over the years that I was invited to be on the board of directors of an organization that helps formerly incarcerated women achieve dreams through college education. I’m also running our 10th Anniversary Benefit. Here are some amazing things about College and Community Fellowships:

    CCF spends about $4,220 per student. The cost for someone to return to prison is about $30,000 per person.

    Higher education programming has proven to be one of the most effective ways of preventing people from returning to prison. While the national recidivism rate hovers around 63%, for people who earned an associate’s and bachelor’s degree, the rate is15.0% and 13.7% respectively. CCF’s rate is even better: fewer than 2% of women who participate in CCF programs return to prison.

    Nearly 70% of CCF students complete a 4-year college degree within four years of becoming CCF Fellows, compared to the graduation rate of 51% within six years for all students attending the same colleges.

    I wish you the best at IMD. You will surely be an asset.


  • Ron Friedman March 23, 2010, 5:40 pm


    Not fully capitalizing on the assets and knowledge provided by women is just not smart. Discrimination, in any way, shape or form cannot be tolerated. Yet, women must not “expect” based on gender, but based on skills, abilities, and performance. It is our responsibility, not just in the US, but globally, to level the playing field and to do everything in our power to influence the decision makers so that they capitalize on the invaluable resources provided by women.

    You know that I support you in your new position as Executive-In-Residence on Responsible Leadership at IMD. Please do not hesitate to “shout” me if you think I can be of any help or to serve as a sounding board.

    All my best,


  • Robert Kesten March 30, 2010, 9:08 am

    Women’s equality, tipping points or otherwise, although a noble idea, is not the right question to be asking. When we attempt to address the issue of childhood obesity, we miss the point as well…it is not childhood obesity, it is family obesity, society-obesity. It is in many ways the same for women and other groups that remain outside the inner circles of power. When Nadine mentions the absence of business at the UN meetings she is hitting the nail on the head…government and nonprofits alone will not move society, all aspects must be represented. Equality is brought about when people realize that we are talking about their sisters, mothers, neighbors…not some “other’ being from outside our sphere of everyday life. Grameen has been so impactful, not so much for targeting women, but for giving them the resources they needed to take their rightful place in society. Once given the opportunity, they became the leaders and men treated them (in many cases, not all) as equal, or at least of deserving respect. The key element is and remains education…literacy is power and the mastery of language, spoken and written has and will continue to change the world. Put power in the pens of people and watch the world change before your very eyes.

  • Wadzanai Katsande April 23, 2010, 3:02 am

    Hi Nadine, I am disheartened by the women in critical positions of power who refuse to acknowledge that they can also effect change or act as mentors. I am currently working for a World Bank Team Task Leader and she belittles smallholder women’s efforts or budgetting for their initiatives as being “these petty petty initiatives” and this totally blows me out of the water. If we as women cannot see that our work, no matter how lowly is important and contributes to a greater reality we will never succeed. If we as women cannot say please respect us at any level then we will never be able to combat the negative images.

  • Thandeka Zwana April 23, 2010, 4:33 am

    @ Wadzanai: As long we as continue to “join” the Boys Club rather than de-gender it, we will always face these hurdles.

  • Alda Bardoner December 31, 2010, 6:19 am

    Khello my buds – my name ought to Borat Sagdiyev . I like you .. do y’all like me. I greatly admire your entries ; I yesterday seen it on kazakhstan’s one laptops ; a IBM 12 Mhz supercomputers ; Will you transport me to see Miss Pamela ?


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