As published on LinkedIn Influencers on March 8th, 2019.
My obsession with research on women first took hold in 2009 when the impact and fallout from what we now call The Great Recession was still being felt across the United States and around the world. Over $5 trillion in wealth had been wiped out and millions of Americans had lost their homes and their jobs. In the wake of this devastation, people quite rightly had a lot of questions. Why did this happen? How did it get so bad? Who was to blame? We still don’t have all the answers, but in 2009 I had a theory. So did Nicholas Kristof.
In February of 2009, Kristof published an op-ed in The New York Times asking the question, “What if Lehman Brothers had been Lehman Sisters?” He used research and data to support the idea that Wall Street being such a homogeneous, male dominated industry was in fact detrimental to the health of our economy. After working on Wall Street for 14 years at Goldman Sachs, I was both intimately familiar with the system and painfully aware that the system was flawed. I believed then, as I still do today, that one of its fundamental flaws was the lack of diversity in its leadership, and in particular, the lack of women and people of color in decision making roles. Throughout my whole career, both at Goldman and after I left in 2002, I always campaigned against the lack of women in leadership positions in the financial services. In September of 2009, I went on CBS News to share my theory that having greater diversity in leadership roles might have made a difference.
“If there had been a critical mass of women over a period of time at the decision-making tables, would we be in the place that we are in today? I don’t think so.”
I said this on national television, and let me tell you, some people were not happy. Today it’s the cardinal rule of the Internet to never read the comments, but back then I was not so savvy. Beyond the usual hateful and misogynistic comments, a trend in the backlash emerged. “Where’s your proof?” countless people demanded. In other words, show us the receipts. Little did they know, I did have proof.
After everything went south in 2008 I began to look into the data on women in finance. I was searching for evidence that would provide insight around the impact of diversity on decision making, and in particular risk taking. There was some, most of which was referenced in Kristof’s article, but I wanted more. To look into this issue I partnered with the National Council for Research on Women to undertake a new study. The resulting report, Women in Fund Management: A Roadmap for Achieving Critical Mass and Why It Matters, was released in June of 2009, and the results supported the claim that in fact greater diversity might have made a difference.
That was in 2009. In the decade since then I’ve become more and more interested in research on women and girls, not the least of which because I was pretty sure that one report that I had a hand in creating was probably not going to have that big of an impact. I was fascinated to see what other information could be found on the topic of women and girls and gender equality. And by fascinated, I mean borderline obsessed. I began aggregating every report I could find, printing them out, reading them, and storing them in my ever expanding collection of filing cabinets. I started a database on my website to list all of these reports, and I would tweet them out from the Twitter handle @researchonwomen and #researchonWandG.
Over the years the number of reports in my collection eventually grew into the three digits, and in 2017 I gathered them all together in one document and released it on March 8th in honor of International Women’s Day. Over the course of eight years, I had gathered together 400 reports on women and girls across 18 different categories. It was an impressive list, and after it had been released I thought that perhaps I could finally put my obsession with research behind me. I was wrong.
Over the course of the year that followed, I was flooded with emails and messages about reports I had missed. I added those reports, removed old or less relevant ones, added more categories, and in 2018, once again on March 8th, I released the Top 500 reports on Women and Girls. 500!! The response was overwhelmingly positive, and I thought that maybe now I could finally move on from obsessively collecting this research. Once again I was wrong.
This past year so many new reports have been released and/or brought to my attention that once again I have another 100 to add. Instead of releasing an entirely new document, this new list has been posted to my website as an addendum. You can find it by clicking HERE. What I find the most remarkable about all this is that in just ten years we have gone from there being very little research being done specifically on women and girls, to nearly 100 new reports generated in a year. These reports cover nearly every facet of society, and they prove without a doubt that a world with gender parity is a world that benefits everyone. In 2012, I gave a TedTalk in which I declared that the case for “Why Women?” was Case Closed, because even back then I thought that the research available at the time proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that gender equality was the best way forward for us all. I smile when I think about how 2012 me had no idea what was on the horizon in terms of research on women. The body of research we have today would have been unthinkable ten years ago, and yet here we are. The question now becomes where do we go from here?
Today, instead of just demanding more data, let’s start using the data we already have. It’s time to more intentionally support the many solutions being offered to us. I couldn’t be more grateful to the countless organizations who have undertaken this research and produced these resources for us. So dig in. Happy International Women’s Day!
The photos above are from a very recent trip to Cartagena, Columbia to visit theJuanfe Foundation. This amazing organization focusses on empowering adolescent mothers. Their program has been so successful that they are introducing it in other locations. It is a great example of the power of data and research.
A huge thank you to Laura Moore who has worked with me over the years to collect, aggregate, and present all these reports.