Can Women Fix Capitalism?

By Joanna Barsh

Gender equality at the top of business has stalled, and trust in business is alarmingly low. Putting more women in charge could well be the key to a better future for business and society alike.

Fifty years ago, women in the United States won a major achievement: Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act listed sex as one of the characteristics that employers couldn’t discriminate against. American women began to enter the workforce in larger numbers across sectors, paving the way for social and economic change.

Yet I’ll admit that for much of my career, I wasn’t thinking about the societal or business impact of gender equality. I had graduated from Harvard Business School among its first 1,000 women students, joined McKinsey, and advanced to senior partner with 19 others – all men. At age 50, I looked up and realized that there were too few women leaders in business and that I didn’t feel much like one myself. Troubled, I set out to discover their secret sauce. That effort was the beginning of “centered leadership”, an approach that, in its simplest terms, joins feminine archetypes with masculine ones, anchored in purpose.1

Recently, this journey has taken me back to those bigger socioeconomic themes. As America’s trust in business and government has dwindled, my dreaming took a new direction: imagining a world led by women who replace capitalism’s relentless push for ever-increasing short-term profits with long-term value for all stakeholders. Or – better yet – a world where women and men together lead as equals, delivering meaningful impact over the long term.

By the way, I’m not alone here. Many others are talking about feminine archetypes of leadership – and, specifically, the role of meaning in companies: building on strengths, leading with purpose, achieving fulfillment. If the women and men who rise to the top embodied these capabilities, they might advance a new paradigm for capitalism too and get us out of the tough place we’re in today, with levels of income inequality worryingly high in many countries and trust in business and government disturbingly low.2

Simply put, putting more women in charge is a key to a better future
for business.

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