21 Leaders, One Cause

Tuesday night, I had the opportunity to attend an event hosted by Women’s e-News which honored “21 Leaders for the 21st Century” for their work to empower girls and women.  There was great diversity in the type of work and the career paths of the individuals honored, highlighted the complexity of the issues that continue to face girls and women around the world, including: Education. Sex-trafficking. Violence. Healthcare. Political participation. Eating disorders. There were filmmakers, journalists, political leaders, CEOs, foundation directors, and even comedians.

ShellyEsque21leaders2Included among the honorees was Intel’s own Shelly Esque, VP of Corporate Affairs and Chair of the Intel Foundation.  Shelly was recognized for her work at Intel to empower girls and women through education and technology, including programs and partnerships that support girls’ access to education (like Girl Rising and Half the Sky), getting more girls to pursue STEM/technology careers (like Girls Who Code), and helping to close the gender digital divide (like our collaboration with a range of global and local partners on the Intel® She Will Connect program.)  Shelly talked about the critical importance of empowering girls through education, why collaboration is critical, and how combining both research data and storytelling is critical for inspiring people to get engaged and take action.

Other honorees shared their views on the importance of empowering and investing in girls and women – and commented on how much progress has been made, and still where much work needs to be done.  Reshma Saujani, CEO of Girls Who Code, spoke about her motivations for helping to inspire and support more girls to pursue STEM subjects and technology careers (today, only 18% of undergraduate computer science degrees in the U.S. are earned by women – down from 36% a decade ago). Intel and other companies will again be supporting summer camps in 2014 to help connect the girls with young women working in the field today to expose them to the ins and outs of these careers.

A number of the speakers talked about the power of education to transform opportunities for the girls and the need to continue to take action to close the gaps that exist globally. Many made reference to the terrible situation of the kidnapped girls in Nigeria and the social media campaign #bringbackourgirls calling for their safe return.

Many speakers also talked about the importance of women stepping up and embracing leadership roles.  I loved the quote from honoree Winsome McIntosh who commented, “’If you don’t have a seat at the table, you are probably on the menu. Grab a seat at the table even if you have to bring your own chair.”

The importance of investing in girls and women to achieve broader social economic goals to create opportunity and better futures for both men and women, and the multiplier effect of closing gender gaps ran throughout the night.  Perhaps Ambassador Melanne Verveer said it best when she closed the night with her remarks and a call to action: “The great imperative of the 21st century remains gender equality. It matters for all.”

For more photos from the event – see this blog post from the Women’s Network for a Sustainable Future.

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