Role models

Katja Iversen wants to prove that a gender-equal world is a wealthier world

Katja Iversen is the President and CEO of Women Deliver – a global organization promoting investment in gender equality and the health and rights of girls and women. Iversen, an internationally recognized expert, has worked in global development for more than 20 years and has counseled and trained multiple Fortune 500 executives on cross-cultural management and communication. She is a member of French President Macron’s G7 Gender Equality Advisory Council, the Unilever Sustainability Advisory Council, the MIT Women & Technology Solve Leadership Group, and an International Gender Champion.

W Insight spoke with Katja Iversen in the context of the Women Deliver 2019 Conference in Vancouver that will take place from June 3 to June 6. Joanna Socha, W Insight’s Editor-in-Chief, will cover the conference, focusing on economic empowerment, entrepreneurship and leadership. In a conversation with Katja Iversen, just before the start of the conference, she asked about trends shaping the focus of this year’s conference and how to make hundreds of different organizations work towards one idea. 

Headshot 2 Katja Iversen - lighter (1)
Katja Iversen

How has the economic situation of women changed in recent years?

We see more and more women in the formal job market in both paid and partially-paid jobs. Of course, historically women have worked very hard, but a great part of the work, which is a very big part of the world economy, has not been paid. For example, we still have a high level of unpaid care work: women are expected to be caretakers, leaving them with fewer opportunities for career development and full participation in the market. Which is why, if we want to see more economic empowerment and more women being independent economically, we have to look at how we divide the unpaid care work between men and women, between partners. We have to look at women’s ability to control their fertility, to decide how many children they want to have. And we have to look at parental leave, good solid accessible and affordable child care, or a tax system that currently also holds women back. 

You have more than 20 years of experience working in NGOs and UN agencies. What were some of the biggest challenges you faced when you started out advocating for gender equality?

One was, of course, the typical stereotyping. ”She is a woman, she is talking about gender equality, we close our ears” – that kind of thinking. We changed that by having a solid evidence-based and investment-case approach, showcasing how supporting women makes economic sense. I have been in meetings where women’s voices didn’t count and I could either scream loud, start to cry, or be strategic. I’ve chosen, together with colleagues, to be strategic in how we want our own and other women’s voices heard. We started getting male champions to work and stand with us. 

This year’s conference is the biggest conference on gender equality in the world with approximately 8000 participants and hundreds of partners supporting the event. What would be your advice to people who want to have many different stakeholders to work on one project?

If you go to Twitter right now and look for tweets related to Women Deliver you will see so many organizations saying what they are going to do. And that is the key element of the Women Deliver. The conference is co-created by more than 150 organizations. They believe it is their conference, they don’t say it is “your” conference, they say it’s “our” conference.

Building things in partnerships makes it much stronger, it also takes a little bit more time. It also means that you have to let go of control, but it is worth it. If you look at the program of Women Deliver, it is something that has been developed by all these different organizations. You know, I have never seen a conference that has had so much hype. So we see it as a platform that other organizations and individuals can take and make their own to further their goals. And that’s part of this successful conference.

And could you talk a little bit about what’s the goal of this year’s conference?

We’re very ambitious because we really need to change the world. The world is at a very critical point now. It could tick the wrong way when it comes to women’s health and rights, including sexual and reproductive health and rights. We want to inspire the world and show that everyone has power and can use it for good and for gender equality. We want to demonstrate how a gender-equal world is healthier, wealthier, more productive, and more peaceful. And we have the evidence for that. And then we want to promote investments in women-focused organizations. So the program is solution-focused, and it’s action-focused. We anticipate people will be leaving with a much better sense of their own power, and what they can do, feeling energized with new partnerships and new solutions.

Interview by Joanna Socha

Edited by Phyllis Budka

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