By Laurent Rotival
International Women’s Day, a global day of the celebration of women, took place on March 8.
The first Women’s Day was observed in the early 1900s to support the women’s rights movement in the United States. Since then, diverse celebrations have been held across the globe to highlight the vital role women play in enhancing economic security for their families, communities and countries, while recognizing that significant barriers to achieving women’s economic security and equality continue to exist.
Since the mid-1980s, we have seen an increasing number of initiatives in Korea, including among others the promotion of equal job opportunities, which have resulted in an increased overall focus on women’s rights at business and national levels.
Historically there has been a tendency for women in the workplace to be sought only in the limited areas which were considered traditional women’s jobs. Over the last few years, we have seen an increased presence of women in the workforce and their professional choices have expanded broadly. Some of the drivers that have led to this positive trend are the economic need for dual incomes, the availability of equal educational opportunities and a cultural shift embracing daughters and allowing for more women leaders in a wider range of fields.
An example of this shift can be seen in the world of international philharmonic orchestras. Conductors have historically been men but recently female conductors have received great reviews and experienced tremendous popularity from the media and the public. Similar shifts can also be seen in the fields of aeronautics, political science and engineering, which were also once perceived as exclusive to males. Across an unprecedented breadth of disciplines, we are seeing significantly more successful female talent that now plays vital roles in the growth and vitality of their fields and related industries.
Inevitable changes are also taking place within the corporate sector. The Catalyst Organization, a leading nonprofit membership organization aiming to expand opportunities for women and business reported last December that U.S.-based organizations with higher levels of gender diversity in the boardroom outperformed companies with zero participation of women in the boardroom by 84 percent in sales, 60 percent in invested capital and 46 percent in returns on equity.
These are impressive numbers and a powerful illustration of how gender diversity, especially in leadership ranks, can lead to breakthrough business performance. It is on the basis of such examples and the talent of our women leaders that multinational corporations such as GE have set gender diversity as a corporate priority.
At GE, we believe that diversity fosters a limitless source of ideas and opportunities. We have a number of employee affinity networks leading diversity initiatives, broadly defined by gender, ethnicity and culture.
The GE Women’s Network, is dedicated to the company’s gender diversity initiative. It is a voluntary organization that was established to help encourage our employees to invest in their personal, career and GE business growth and specifically concentrates on professional women’s development.
Among its many contributions, a key priority is set on growing, attracting and retaining successful women throughout GE. We do so by providing development opportunities that focus on leadership, advancement, and career broadening opportunities through information, education, networking with other women employees, global and regional women leaders and our senior executive leadership team. In 2004, GE received the “Developing Women Leaders: Synergistic Forces Driving Change” award from Catalyst.
The GE Women’s Network also strives to develop stronger leadership and engagement by women in the disciplines of science, engineering and services, fields in which female talent has shown low interest and engagement at a global level.
A specific example of this focus is the creation of a group focused on women in technology. This group aims to actively recruit and promote women scientists and engineers who will ensure GE nurtures its strengths as a leading global innovator and a company committed to solving the most difficult global challenges.
Korea is no exception. Women leaders have made significant progress in recent years. Nevertheless, we still have plenty of room to bridge the gap with other leading OECD countries.
Every day, I am impressed by the outstanding contributions of our women employees and, in an industry where the great majority of family healthcare decisions are made by women, I look forward to their leadership as we invest in serving our customers and helping them deliver the best care, cost effectively to those who need it the most.
I encourage other businesses in Korea to share our commitment and join us on our journey. I am confident that such efforts will secure the long term success and competitiveness of their businesses as it did for GE.