Last week, I attended the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos as one of 50 Global Shapers. It was an incredible and overwhelming experience. Many people talk about their "Davos moment," a meeting or one-on-one encounter that is transformative. I met with world leaders including Kofi Annan and Mohamed Yunus and each of these meetings was a "Davos moment." But now that I have come down from what they call the Magic Mountain, I can say that my Davos moment was something bigger and more powerful. It is less of a moment, and more of a momentum.
I heard it at an early breakfast meeting: "2013 will be a year for women's movements around the world." I saw it in the panels on women and decision making that included the likes of Christine Lagarde and Drew Gilpin Faust. I saw it in a preview of the film Girl Rising in the panel aptly called "Smart girls." My Davos moment that I hope turns into a momentum is about the importance of empowering girls and women in order to improve the state of the world.
The Global Shapers delegation that I was a part of had equal representation of young women and men. I was well aware that the percentage of women amongst the 2,000+ participants was around 17 percent. While much is rightly made about this dismal figure, it is not so much a reflection of the World Economic Forum, but rather a reflection of our societies.
So rather than dwell on the 17 percent, I am interested in how can we look into the mirror of our societies and see more women in positions of leadership? What will it take to raise women's profiles and make it easier for women to go all the way?
Here are some of my takeaways:
Women's empowerment is not just a task for women. Neither is it an issue that can only be addressed by men. Women and men -- across generations -- need to work together to make a gender-balanced society a reality. Fostering dialogue between men and women can contribute to recognizing each other's potential. Mutual understanding will help us to value our differences. For instance we might see that differences in management styles are in fact an asset - -not a weakness. Women should be able to embrace their own individualist styles and not fall into a specific category.
Traditions are manmade and can be changed by men and women. This quote from a participant at Davos really resonated with me. There is a need to change mind-sets about traditional gender roles and recognize and utilize the capacity or agency that each of us has, regardless of gender.
Focus on girls. Empowerment needs to start EARLY! If we want to contribute to a more gender-balanced society we need to focus on girls. Smart girls make sense: both from an egalitarian and economic perspective. A report by the Global Campaign for Education shows that a 1 percent increase in the number of women achieving a secondary school education can increase annual GDP growth by 0.3 percent.
The power of mentorship. This is by far my biggest takeaway that I want to share with the world. Mentoring is a great way to pass on one's knowledge to younger generations. Hearing about success stories (or failures) from more experienced women -- and men -- can have a real impact on young women's careers. Sometimes it's enough to know that generations before us have faced and overcome even greater challenges. It means that change is possible and this can empower young women to be more self-confident in voicing their aspirations and pursuing their goals.
I attended a session on public speaking that boosted my own self-confidence. The advice I received I will use going forwards. As a young professional, I will continue to seek out mentorship opportunities. I also recognize that going forwards I have a responsibility to help mentor young women and men.
Mentoring is something that each and every one of us can do. You don't need to be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company to be a mentor. Leadership is everywhere, at every level of society and at every age.
So the next time a young person comes and talks to you, remember how powerful your positive advice can be in creating more empowered girls and women. In fact I urge you all to seek out mentorship opportunities and let's keep this momentum going. We all have a contribution to make to improve the state of our world.