Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and former Prime Minister of Australia Julia Gillard discuss the importance of raising boys to support women’s leadership

To help advance women’s leadership worldwide, EJS Center Board Member Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has a compelling message: raise boys better. 

During a recent discussion about their book, “Women and Leadership: Real Lives, Real Lessons,” World Trade Organization Director-General Dr. Okonjo-Iweala and her co-author, former Prime Minister of Australia Julia Gillard, touched on a number of the key barriers to increasing women’s representation in public offices.

One standout message from their conversation with the President of the Brookings Institution, John Allen, was Dr. Okonjo-Iweala’s belief that men have a crucial role to play in creating a supportive environment for gender equality: 

“Men should think of how they raise their boys. And women should too. Because you need to start at an early age to instill into boys and young men that they can actually be an actor in terms of making sure that women get their fair share of attention and opportunities.”

Speaking of her own experiences as a mother to three sons, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala shared:

“My husband and I raised them to understand that nobody, no woman, is going to be there cooking and cleaning and running after their children. They have to be full partners. These women are going to be, most likely, professionals. So, they need to learn how to share and be a good partner. And they also need to create opportunities for girls or women as they move along.”

Reflecting on her own upbringing, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala shared that one of her greatest role models was her father: “He gave us that freedom to feel we could reach for the skies.” 

Ms. Gillard agreed, pointing out that research conducted for the book clearly showed all the women leaders interviewed “were always made to feel they could do everything” by their parents. 

However, looking at progress so far, both women had a stark reminder for audiences—that there was still much work to be done. They reminded listeners that only one in four parliamentarians in the world is a woman; on average, just 21% of cabinet positions are held by women; and that the global gender pay gap means women earn, on average, 20% less than men across the world. Dr. Okonjo-Iweala ended with a memorable statistic: that of the 900 Nobel Prize winners to date, only 57 have been women, remarking quizzically, “but our brains are not different.”

The full audio of the interview can be listened to here, and more information on the book can be found here.

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