Culture 15 February 2019
Businesses that neglect their most valuable assets lose competitiveness and long-term profitability. The same is true on a larger scale for national economies. So why do we continue to tolerate the enormous, yet preventable waste of human capital caused by gender inequality? Isn't it time we addressed this question as one of the top international economic priorities?
Only around 50% of women globally are in paid work outside the agricultural sector compared to 77% of men. This gap in employment rates has barely narrowed over the last twenty years. Worse still, the gap widens the higher up the career ladder you go. The number of female CEOs of Fortune 500 companies has actually fallen by a quarter over the last year to under 5%. A sobering reality indeed.
As I was discussing these issues with NGO and business leaders at the Concordia Summit and the World Economic Forum during the most recent United Nations General Assembly, I was struck by three main challenges.
First, men seem to be doing very little to bridge the gender gap. The advocacy is mostly led by women, as was the case with the suffragette movement at the beginning of the 20th century to give equal rights for women to vote. As long as men do not understand that bridging the gender gap is their responsibility as well, very little progress will be made. It is high time for men to step up and lead together with women to address this issue.
Second, very few business leaders seem to understand that gender inequality is not just a moral and human right issue, it is also a bottom line issue. It constitutes the single biggest distortion in the modern labour market and a major impediment to wealth creation. It prevents talent from rising to its natural level and leads to the systematic misallocation of resources, leaving the global economy worse off in the process.
It has been estimated that closing the gender gap would add $28tn to the value of the global economy – a 26% increase – by 2025. The dividend would be equal to the combined GDPs of the US and China. There is today an extensive body of research showing a strong link between female empowerment and economic development. Put simply, companies and societies are more likely to grow and prosper when women gain greater financial independence as wage earners and property owners.
Forward-thinking companies should be looking for ways to empower women at work, not just as a moral obligation, but also as a sound business strategy. A 2017 report by McKinsey noted that companies with three or more women on their executive committees performed better according to a broad set of organisational criteria, including innovation and quality of leadership. It further concluded that companies with the most women in senior positions achieved returns on equity 47% higher than those with none.
Third, when advancing female economic empowerment, the international community seems to mostly focus on helping women to break the glass ceiling in companies currently dominated by men. While this is important, we are also missing a big piece of the puzzle. I am convinced that the most effective strategy would be to actually increase opportunities for women to create and build companies of their own. Championing women's entrepreneurship will contribute more to a narrowing of the gender gap than promotion within existing businesses.
Sadly, today's entrepreneurs are still twice as likely to be men than women. Female entrepreneurs receive a disproportionately small amount of venture funding, with only 2.2% of the total invested in the US last year going to women-owned start-ups. This is despite the fact that companies founded by women deliver significantly higher returns than the market average, according to surveys. More must be done to provide the investment capital needed to support and accelerate the emerging revolution in female entrepreneurship.
I know from my own experience running one of the leading direct selling networks in Asia, Africa and Middle East that women are equally talented and eager to take control for themselves and become entrepreneurs.
When Nobel Prize Winner Professor Muhammed Yunus created the first ever microcredit bank in Bangladesh more than 30 years ago, he noticed that women were more likely than men to run their business in a professional way and to repay loans. As a result, more than 90% of Grameen bank customers are women.
Gender inequality is not a fatality. But turning this vision into reality will need more than good intentions. It will require transformative change in the way we do business and support entrepreneurs.
For decades, women have been unknowingly suffering from PSD and intergenerational trauma, but now Dr. Valerie Rein wants women to reclaim their power through mind, body and healing tools.
As women, no matter how many accomplishments we have or how successful we look on the outside, we all occasionally hear that nagging internal voice telling us to do more. We criticize ourselves more than anyone else and then throw ourselves into the never-ending cycle of self-care, all in effort to save ourselves from crashing into this invisible internal wall. According to psychologist, entrepreneur and author, Dr. Valerie Rein, these feelings are not your fault and there is nothing wrong with you— but chances are you definitely suffering from Patriarchy Stress Disorder.
Patriarchy Stress Disorder (PSD) is defined as the collective inherited trauma of oppression that forms an invisible inner barrier to women's happiness and fulfillment. The term was coined by Rein who discovered a missing link between trauma and the effects that patriarchal power structures have had on certain groups of people all throughout history up until the present day. Her life experience, in addition to research, have led Rein to develop a deeper understanding of the ways in which men and women are experiencing symptoms of trauma and stress that have been genetically passed down from previously oppressed generations.
What makes the discovery of this disorder significant is that it provides women with an answer to the stresses and trauma we feel but cannot explain or overcome. After being admitted to the ER with stroke-like symptoms one afternoon, when Rein noticed the left side of her body and face going numb, she was baffled to learn from her doctors that the results of her tests revealed that her stroke-like symptoms were caused by stress. Rein was then left to figure out what exactly she did for her clients in order for them to be able to step into the fullness of themselves that she was unable to do for herself. "What started seeping through the tears was the realization that I checked all the boxes that society told me I needed to feel happy and fulfilled, but I didn't feel happy or fulfilled and I didn't feel unhappy either. I didn't feel much of anything at all, not even stress," she stated.
Photo Courtesy of Dr. Valerie Rein
This raised the question for Rein as to what sort of hidden traumas women are suppressing without having any awareness of its presence. In her evaluation of her healing methodology, Rein realized that she was using mind, body and trauma healing tools with her clients because, while they had never experienced a traumatic event, they were showing the tell-tale symptoms of trauma which are described as a disconnect from parts of ourselves, body and emotions. In addition to her personal evaluation, research at the time had revealed that traumatic experiences are, in fact, passed down genetically throughout generations. This was Rein's lightbulb moment. The answer to a very real problem that she, and all women, have been experiencing is intergenerational trauma as a result of oppression formed under the patriarchy.
Although Rein's discovery would undoubtably change the way women experience and understand stress, it was crucial that she first broaden the definition of trauma not with the intention of catering to PSD, but to better identify the ways in which trauma presents itself in the current generation. When studying psychology from the books and diagnostic manuals written exclusively by white men, trauma was narrowly defined as a life-threatening experience. By that definition, not many people fit the bill despite showing trauma-like symptoms such as disconnections from parts of their body, emotions and self-expression. However, as the field of psychology has expanded, more voices have been joining the conversations and expanding the definition of trauma based on their lived experience. "I have broadened the definition to say that any experience that makes us feel unsafe psychically or emotionally can be traumatic," stated Rein. By redefining trauma, people across the gender spectrum are able to find validation in their experiences and begin their journey to healing these traumas not just for ourselves, but for future generations.
While PSD is not experienced by one particular gender, as women who have been one of the most historically disadvantaged and oppressed groups, we have inherited survival instructions that express themselves differently for different women. For some women, this means their nervous systems freeze when faced with something that has been historically dangerous for women such as stepping into their power, speaking out, being visible or making a lot of money. Then there are women who go into fight or flight mode. Although they are able to stand in the spotlight, they pay a high price for it when their nervous system begins to work in a constant state of hyper vigilance in order to keep them safe. These women often find themselves having trouble with anxiety, intimacy, sleeping or relaxing without a glass of wine or a pill. Because of this, adrenaline fatigue has become an epidemic among high achieving women that is resulting in heightened levels of stress and anxiety.
"For the first time, it makes sense that we are not broken or making this up, and we have gained this understanding by looking through the lens of a shared trauma. All of these things have been either forbidden or impossible for women. A woman's power has always been a punishable offense throughout history," stated Rein.
Although the idea of having a disorder may be scary to some and even potentially contribute to a victim mentality, Rein wants people to be empowered by PSD and to see it as a diagnosis meant to validate your experience by giving it a name, making it real and giving you a means to heal yourself. "There are still experiences in our lives that are triggering PSD and the more layers we heal, the more power we claim, the more resilience we have and more ability we have in staying plugged into our power and happiness. These triggers affect us less and less the more we heal," emphasized Rein. While the task of breaking intergenerational transmission of trauma seems intimidating, the author has flipped the negative approach to the healing journey from a game of survival to the game of how good can it get.
In her new book, Patriarchy Stress Disorder: The Invisible Barrier to Women's Happiness and Fulfillment, Rein details an easy system for healing that includes the necessary tools she has sourced over 20 years on her healing exploration with the pioneers of mind, body and trauma resolution. Her 5-step system serves to help "Jailbreakers" escape the inner prison of PSD and other hidden trauma through the process of Waking Up in Prison, Meeting the Prison Guards, Turning the Prison Guards into Body Guards, Digging the Tunnel to Freedom and Savoring Freedom. Readers can also find free tools on Rein's website to help aid in their healing journey and exploration.
"I think of the book coming out as the birth of a movement. Healing is not women against men– it's women, men and people across the gender spectrum, coming together in a shared understanding that we all have trauma and we can all heal."