Women Empowerment: An OWS Hot Topic

Women’s Voices Heard at The Summit

As a young engineer working for a food technology company in Europe, Astrid Uka recalled that she was “super excited” to attend the company’s annual sales conference in 1996. But her bosses told her she couldn’t go. Because she was a woman.

Before her current sourcing career at Sprint, Mary Lewis was one of a handful of women in her 650-unit of the U.S. Army in Calvary, Texas, when a male supervisor told her he had never evaluated a woman before and asked her how to do it. To Lewis, the response seemed obvious that her performance should be measured just like her male counterparts.

Janet Gosche, now a director at Avasant, remembers working for a global service provider that held a meeting at a prestigious men’s club. She was told to enter a side door and hang her coat in the bathroom. Her male coworkers entered the front door and checked their belongings in a lavish room. This was 30 years ago. In Cleveland.

While women have made great strides for gender equality in the workforce, results of the Women Empowerment and Outsourcing survey conducted by IAOP, in partnership with the Avasant Foundation, shows there’s still more progress to be made. The survey went to more than 50,000 outsourcing professionals around the world. For the full report, visit www.iaop.org/wereport.

The survey is the result of a year-long exercise to better understand the perceptions on gender equality,
empowerment and opportunities for women in the outsourcing industry; where and how outsourcing has empowered the lives of women both inside and outside the workplace; and to create awareness of the gaps, which lay foundations for meaningful future women empowerment initiatives and actions.

Uka, Lewis and Gosche, were among a panel of experts who shared their personal experiences during an eye-opening and powerful panel discussion at OWS17. The speakers talked about the importance of women empowerment in the U.S., Europe, Africa and Asia; and discussed the changes they have seen and the importance of diversity in the workplace.

Chitra Rajeshwari, aCOP, Executive Director of the Avasant Foundation, kicked off the interactive presentation to a full room of interested delegates. The focus is continuing with IAOP’s newly formed  Women Empowerment Chapter launched at the Summit.

The timing and issue are particularly relevant with recent women marches and the adoption by global leaders of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal #5 to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. “Gender equality is not only a fundamental human right but a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world,” Rajeshwari said in her opening remarks.

“Providing women and girls with equal access to education, health care, decent work and representation in political and economic decision-making processes will fuel sustainable economies and benefit societies and humanity at large.”

– Chitra Rajeshwari, aCOP, Executive Director, Avasant Foundation


In the live audience polling, the majority of delegates responding felt that women were empowered most of the time. According to the results, 29 percent women were empowered 100 percent of the time; 36 percent said three-quarters of the time; 15 percent said half the time; 16 percent said 30 percent, and 2 percent said 10 percent of the time.

When asked if they believe women in their companies rise to the top based on their innate abilities and talents, 42 percent said most often, 27 percent said always, 20 percent said half the time, 7 percent said occasionally and 2 percent said seldom.

The live results showed that while 23 percent believed that gender targets and quotas don’t play a role at all in getting more women in leadership but the majority of respondents felt they played a significant or small role.


Gosche shared that the men’s only club in Cleveland has long since come to accept women as active members and that she has privileges to the club and gets to use the proper coat check. “Change does happen,” Gosche said.

“Change does happen,” Gosche said.

Lewis talked about experiencing pay inequality working in male-dominated fields where her only female supervisor mentored her and helped her get the compensation that was on par with men. Technology that enables networking inside and outside your organization is a great enabler, she said.

The company Uka once worked for now allows women at its highest-level sales conferences, although she ran into similar problems of not getting promotions at another company she previously worked for.

“Women are the biggest emerging market,” said Uka, who has found career opportunities in her current role as Enterprise 360 Strategy Director at Microsoft. “Know your industry and know your numbers. Speak out. Make sure you measure things that make sense. Do it now. The problems of today are too big to wait for your daughters.”

Karen Bobear, Managing Director of Accenture, said she’s seen a positive evolution in the past 18 years she’s worked in the industry, from awareness to now greater advocacy. In the earlier days, women were often brought into management roles when the client was a woman CEO. Today, she said it’s more about having equal and diverse teams, which she says, is “the right step for true empowerment.”

Bobby Varanasi, COP-GOV, CEO of Matryzel Consulting, who works with governments in Asia Pacific, Africa and Malaysia, said that while women are empowered at work, many are not empowered at home, where societal and cultural norms don’t allow them to move to cities and they often have to ask males for permission to get jobs.


Panelists said it is very important for women to have mentors and passionate executive sponsors to promote women to higher management roles and the survey supports that.

With the many changes and turnovers in corporations, women have to network and be involved with women affinity groups to make themselves known to have advocates who will speak up on their behalf, according to Lewis.

“Women need to self-advocate. You can’t be heard if you don’t speak.”

– Mary Lewis, Supply Chain Management Leader, Sprint

Joe Hogan, COP, Vice President, HCL, said his company has stepping stone programs for women and that there needs to be advocacy, openness and education from women counterparts. He quoted former Texas governor Samuel “Sam” Houston, who was best known for his role in bringing Texas into the United States as a constituent state, as saying “in diversity of opinion, there’s strength.”

Sara Enright, Manager of the Global Impact Sourcing Coalition at BSR, who was also at the Summit to speak about impact sourcing (see related story on GISC) shared her perspectives from working in other industries. She said that more organizations are putting women empowerment programs in place in their supply chains.

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