EXCLUSIVE: Equality For Women Is The Ultimate "High-Yield Investment" - UBS Forum

Tom Burroughes Group Editor London 11 December 2013

EXCLUSIVE: Equality For Women Is The Ultimate

In the third in a series of articles from the UBS Global Forum on Philanthropy, this publication examines how speakers addressed women's issues and the continuing challenges many women face.

This is the third in a series of articles stemming from the recent UBS Global Philanthropy Forum in St Moritz, Switzerland, at which this publication was the exclusive media partner. To see the previous two items, click here and here.

They make up 50 per cent of the human population and despite big strides in recent decades, women around the world face a number of barriers to a better life, a fact that philanthropists and policymakers must continue to address, a conference heard recently.

Under the theme of “It’s a Girl!” to celebrate and note women’s issues, delegates at the UBS Global Philanthropy Forum in St Moritz, Switzerland, discussed the challenges, progress and problems that women in many countries continue to face.

And among the key themes of the discussions was that empowering women through education and greater opportunities is probably the most important upward step any country can take to boost its economy. One speaker at the annual event described it as the ultimate “high-yield investment”.

Setting the scene for the two-day conference, Alex Friedman, global chief investment officer at UBS, talked about “three forces which move the world” – government, religion and capital. “We are at this unique inflection point where tendencies over the last 30 to 40 years have led us to where we are.”

Touching on the first morning session on women’s issues and problems, Friedman pointed out that there are 250 million adolescent girls in the world living in poverty; there is a huge pool of potential wealth creation being lost due to lack of education and other opportunities for such young women.

More broadly, Friedman talked about how the world economy is still working its way out of a period of rising leverage. “It is not a world where there is more money around right now,” he said, explaining why constrained government budgets and demands have helped drive demand for philanthropy.

In total, the investment management industry has over $100 trillion, so even if a small fraction of that money were to be put to philanthropic uses or invested in particular ways would have a dramatic effect, he said.

Kathryn Shih, chief executive officer, UBS Wealth Management, Asia-Pacific, told the conference: “My position [as a senior female banking executive] is a very fortunate one and not at all representative of the region I come from.”

She discussed issues such as selective abortion [at the expense of baby girls). “Death rates in childbirth are higher in the APAC region than in any other region of the world apart from sub-Saharan Africa”, she said. “The forced marriage of girls is another scourge,” she continued.

“Investment in health and education for girls can deliver exponential benefits,” she told delegates.

Smart policy as well as right

Melanne Verveer, who is US Ambassador-at-large for global women’s issues and a former member of the Clinton administration in the US, said: “Gender equality is the smart and strategic thing to do. For far too long, women’s rights have been a sub-set of human rights. It remains a fact that no country can get ahead if it leaves half of its people behind.”

“We see women as agents of change rather than as victims,” she said.

At present, women hold about 20 per cent of the seats in parliaments, she said. She cited World Bank data suggesting that levels of corruption fall in political systems when women’s participation increases, she added.

Vuslat Dogan Sbanci, chair of Turkish publication Hurriyet, talked about her feeling of guilt at seeing her own success in business contrast with the poor situation of many women in Turkey. This drove her to do something about it. While Turkey has a relatively high score for women CEOs and senior managers, general female workforce participation is low.

And Michael Kimmel, professor, State University of New York, Stony Brook, USA, gave a man’s perspective on how to address the issues facing women. At times thought-provoking and entertaining, Kimmel pointed out that helping women to progress is as much in the interests of men as it is for women themselves.

“Women today feel entitled to pleasure,” he said, contrasting with the attitudes about women that have prevailed for a lot of history.

He talked about his research on issues such as parental leave and why, even with firms that allowed it, some men did not take advantage of it due to peer group pressure and a sense that such leave would be adverse for one’s career.

He said men should not treat the issue of women’s rights as a zero-sum game; “rather, what’s good for girls and women is good for boys and men,” he said. (He briefly referred to some studies suggesting that boys and men were being harmed by a focus on women’s issues, such as campaigns to bring daughters into workplaces.)

Register for WealthBriefing today

Gain access to regular and exclusive research on the global wealth management sector along with the opportunity to attend industry events such as exclusive invites to Breakfast Briefings and Summits in the major wealth management centres and industry leading awards programmes