Transforming perceptions of women leaders through the Action Coalitions will be a “lever for positive outcomes”, says UN Women Deputy Executive Director, Anita Bhatia


On 20 January, an expert panel gathered in the Female Quotient’s Virtual Equality Lounge at the World Economic Forum in Davos to discuss perceptions of leadership and exchange ideas on how to accelerate gender diversity in decision-making positions.

If we shift perceptions of women leaders, we will change the fundamental cultural and emotional biases that people have against women, explained Anita Bhatia, UN Women Deputy Executive Director, in her keynote address.

“We have to stop having images of women as only certain types of leaders and give them the freedom to be any kind of leader they want to be,” said Bhatia. “The Action Coalition on Feminist Movements and Leadership will tackle this issue of leadership and the perception of leadership head on.”

Silvana Koch-Mehrin, President of Women Political Leaders, underscored the importance of improving gender data; one of the key tactics used by the Action Coalitions to uncover inequality, illuminate solutions, and help monitor progress. Women Political Leaders has committed to improving and amplifying data to transform perceptions of leadership over the coming five years.

The Action Coalition is working to advance and increase the participation, leadership and decision-making power of women, girls and non-binary people, in all their diversity. This will be achieved by advancing gender parity in all aspects of public and economic decision making and promoting feminist, gender transformative and inclusive laws and policies.

“Serious, sustained and systemic”

Dr. Michelle Harrison, Global CEO of Kantar Public, presented striking insights from the Reykjavik Index for Leadership, which was established by Women Political Leaders and Kantar Public to measure the perceptions of equality for men and women in leadership.

The findings show that society consistently views women as less suitable for leadership positions and reveal that young people in G7 countries have a greater degree of prejudice against female leadership than their parent’s generation.

These attitudes create barriers to women’s progression and contrast with the evidence that gender diverse leadership is beneficial to organizational performance, societal development and economic advancement.

When establishing the Reykjavik Index “we didn’t think we would find something so serious, sustained and systemic,” explained Harrison.

Gender Data is Powerful

The Generation Equality Action Coalitions provide a clear opportunity for collective action to deliver gender data. “What matters is what gets measured,” said Silvana Koch-Mehrin, President of Women Political Leaders, an organization co-leading the Action Coalition on Feminist Movements and Leadership.

Women Political Leaders has committed to transforming perceptions of leadership by expanding the Reykjavik Index to 50 new countries and amplifying data on the extent of leadership stereotypes over the coming 5 years.

Shifting perceptions

Speakers called for examples of women in leadership to be championed in order to tackle prejudice. This approach is modelled by UN Women’s Leaders for Generation Equality initiative, which brings together women from across generations and sectors to illustrate the full potential of diverse and inclusive leadership.

Transforming prejudice is a lever for positive outcomes on a range of issues, not just for the lives of individuals but for society at large, Bhatia reminded participants when closing the panel. “Perceptions can be changed… and the work of Generation Equality is only just getting started.”