Ellen McGirt and The League of Extraordinary Women

November 8, 2012 at 12:44 pm Leave a comment

Ellen McGirt. Photo by Fast Company.

Ellen McGirt is a senior writer at Fast Company. She was recently the opening keynote speaker at Portland State University’s 6th Annual International Conference on Business and Sustainability.

“For a business writer, there is very little incentive for me to look at the messy, ugly truth of the world,” says Ellen McGirt. Yet this is exactly what she did with her influential Fast Company article, “Meet The League of Extraordinary Women.” In it, she describes the remarkable group of women in government, the nonprofit sector, and business working together to address the horrific statistics of an unequal world: ten million child marriages a year; one billion women sexually assaulted; hundreds of millions living in endemic hunger and poverty.

The numbers are shocking, and can be desensitizing—but Ellen argues that it is numbers that make the case for change. By organizing around the data of hope, using findings from studies that show an emerging market of 1.4 billion customers representing more than $12 trillion in purchasing power, the power of business can be leveraged to create transformational change. Because, without educated women, working women, wage-earning women, the market isn’t there. By focusing on education, equality, and empowerment, socially responsible businesses and social entrepreneurs, in concert with governments and NGOs, can drive change and develop new markets in a manner beneficial to both business and customer.

“You can’t manage what you can’t measure, and if you can’t measure, you can’t make the case.” The League of Extraordinary Women described in Ellen’s article has self-organized around data that demonstrate the effectiveness and economic impact of interventions aimed at women. These data are essential, because they help decision-makers “realize what women and girls really need, not just what you think they need.” Driven by the numbers, social enterprises like Samasource and campaigns like The Girl Effect are developing, iterating, and improving their models and programs to drive the greatest global benefit for women and girls.

A woman in Rwanda uses a new stove provided by SII member EcoZoom.

But the need for greater equality, educational access, and entrepreneurial opportunity for women doesn’t stop in developing nations. Nationwide, women comprise fewer than 37% of recent MBA graduates, a number that has shown little growth in the past decade, and still earn far less than their male colleagues after graduation.[1] At Portland State University, women make up 54% of the incoming MBA cohort and 50% of business faculty. Women entrepreneurs comprise 60% of PSU’s Social Innovation Incubator members. These numbers are not accidental, but the result of processes designed to not explicitly or implicitly favor men.

Universities like Portland State are making an effort to reduce the gender gap in business education, but this is only a tiny part of the needed effort. What can the rest of us do, locally and globally? “Your attention is the most valuable asset you have,” says Ellen. Using it effectively, leveraging it through digital tools and social media, anyone can make change through what she calls “the scalability of love.”

So where to start? Ellen has an invitation: gather a small group of friends this November 17th and together answer the following questions

  • What do I need to grow?
  • What do the girls and women in my community need?
  • What do girls and women around the world need?

Start there, and remember, “Everything takes longer than you think it will, [but] everything is a victory.”

[1]“Women MBAs,” Catalyst.org, May 2012. 

By Jacen Greene, Ames Fellow for Social Entrepreneurship at Portland State University

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