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Susan Bulkeley Butler

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For Women and the Economy, A New Year, New Opportunities: What Would Warren Buffett Do?

Posted: 01/02/2013 12:35 pm

A new year comes with new opportunities, new optimism -- and new chances for us to make things right.

Nowhere is this more tangible right now than in the U.S. economy and in politics, where we're struggling with fiscal cliffs and financial deficits, stubbornly stagnant unemployment and a stock market trying to find its way amid all the uncertainty.

So who better to listen to right now than the most famous and most successful investor and businessperson of our time?

According to Warren Buffett, women can save the U.S. economy -- but in order to do so, we must continue to open new opportunities for women.

"In this country in 1776, we said all men are created equal -- and then we ignored that fact for almost 150 years until the 19th Amendment," Buffett said in a recent BBC radio interview with fellow philanthropist Melinda Gates. "What a waste of human talent -- 50 percent of the talent of the country we've pushed off to the corner for almost 200 years."

"When I see how far we've come only using half the talent of the country, and now I realize we're getting to the point where we're starting to use 100 percent of our talent, it makes me optimistic," the Oracle of Omaha said. "But we still have a ways to go."

I couldn't agree more.

I belong to a group called the Thirty Percent Coalition, which is working to achieve gender diversity by advocating for public companies to fill 30 percent of their corporate board seats with women by the year 2015. Right now, women fill about 14 percent of board seats at S&P 1500 companies.

One place to look for guidance - believe it or not - may be Washington, D.C.

While women made few gains in corporate boardrooms in 2012, we did move the needle in Congress.

When a new Congress convenes Jan. 3, it will include a record number of women, including 20 new women senators and 81 representatives. For the first time, a state -- New Hampshire -- will have an all-female delegation.

With about 18 percent women, the new Congress will be a little more equally represented than most public corporations. Of course we still have much work to do to reach real parity, and we need to build on that momentum by encouraging more women to get into the electoral pipeline for the next election.

If we continue to create a Congress more representative of the people and for the people, the leadership traits of women might begin to make a difference.

According to research from the Caliper Corp. consultancy, women tend to have leadership styles that are more inclusive, more collaborative and more open to consensus-building. And where is that needed more than in Congress right now?

Women do make a difference, and as Warren Buffett says, the talent of women in this country needs to be put to work to make it a better place for everyone.

The beginning of a new year is a great time for all of us to restart our efforts.

As poet Elizabeth Lovejoy Pierce reminds us:

"We will open the book. Its pages are blank. We are going to put words on them ourselves. The book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is New Year's Day."

 

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