One of the first things I read this year for international women’s day was a quote which really resonated with me. It said: “Here’s to strong women, may we know them, may we be them, may we raise them up”, writes Chitra Stern, CEO & Co-Founder of Martinhal & EduHub Lisbon.
This year, we are thinking, not simply about equality but the focus is about embracing equity. How do we treat people in relation to their specific needs and circumstances when they aren’t at the same starting point as ourselves? How do we learn to empower and support, and develop those with less access than ourselves? In my opinion, I believe improving access to quality education is a fundamental part of creating a more level playing field.
Year on year, we hear a lot about quotas, about how the corporate world is making strides towards improving female representation. However, across the EU, the number of female board members still constitutes only 33% in listed companies; in the UK it’s 40%; with the US lagging behind at 29% and Portugal just having 24.8% female representation. Yet research over the past decade, repeatedly points at the greater the gender diversity, the better the company performs, achieving higher ROE and lower earnings risk.
This is all very well for people who have been successful enough to have excelled in their careers and ascended the corporate ladder. However, getting there in the first place is the real challenge; not everyone is starting from the same place. Growing up in an Indian family with parents who worked hard to achieve their goals, education was front and centre in our lives; and I am eternally grateful for sacrifices that were made for us to provide an incredible international education in Asia and the UK.
In fact, no matter what life stage you are at – you should still be learning. It’s the ethos behind EduHub in Lisbon to create an ecosystem for lifelong learning. We are continually exploring initiatives to engage and support this mission. We are working for example with an NGO called the Malaika Foundation to advance access to education for girls in the DRC. This weekend we ran our first free Art Festival encouraging people of all ages to engage in creativity and self-expression.
We know that women were disproportionately affected during and in the immediate aftermath of the pandemic bearing the brunt of childcare responsibilities. Prohibitively expensive childcare costs across Europe’s continue to ingrain lower female participation rates in the workforce. Yet research indicates that closing this gap could tremendously benefit the region’s economic prosperity, especially against a backdrop of our ageing populations. While it’s encouraging, for example, to hear in the UK the increase in government spending towards childcare costs, there is always more that can be done to support working parents’ place in the workforce.
Across our different businesses in property, and education, currently our representation at senior level is 20% higher than the EU average. Since the war in Ukraine, we have been committed to not only supporting on the ground with aid but are also proud to have welcomed several new employees from the Ukraine. Functionally, we will continue to provide dedicated workspaces and family kids’ clubs across our properties creating environments where both parents can thrive and build a better work life balance. One of our mantras, is that we can always do more, and we can always be learning more.