Sarah Brown said that this meant changing the deep-rooted values embedded in society across the globe that are stifling the potential of women.
Aside from fairness, there is a powerful argument for business to support this. McKinsey & Company has estimated that $12 trillion could be added to global GDP by 2025 by improving the parity between men and women.
The speakers presented a spectrum of challenges that are currently blocking these opportunities, from the developing world to the developed world. Lyndsey Scott was one speaker.
You don’t meet many actresses who are also models and are also brilliant at coding. Scott is the first for me. She became an overnight sensation when she was picked up by Calvin Klein in 2009 to be its first African American model (after a day handing out flyers on the street in New York).
Later, when her modelling career hit a wall (she was fired with no notice by her agency), Scott turned to her other passion, coding, because she felt it was a career where she could exercise some control. And she's very good at it. But she feels that she had to be very good because she’s a woman and was constantly challenged online by men who suggested she’s "just a model".
Across Facebook, Google and Apple, the ratio of men-to-women tech employees is 4:1. It is, Scott points out, "a less-than-welcoming environment for women". She looks forward to the day when a woman in tech can actually be average at her job and still be taken seriously (as millions of men in tech are every day around the world).
And things had better change. There will be a step change for women in tech in the workforce, according to a MediaCom survey. In the UK, we have spotted a significant shift in career aspirations from girls in our long-running research insight panel, Connected Kids. Our latest survey has science careers as the second-highest career aspiration among girls (behind teacher and ahead of doctor, vet and lawyer). And 80 per cent of the girls surveyed want to go to university, up from 72 per cent last year (compared with 65 per cent of boys this year, a drop from 69 per cent the year before – so the gap is widening).
Half-a-decade ago, the picture was very different. Girls still aspired to be teachers and doctors but science careers did not feature. Instead, the top five included singer, pop star and actress. It looks like the current generation of girls at school have reached the same conclusion as Scott – that a career based on something that you can control is a better long-term prospect.
The team behind Connected Kids, Pauline Robson and Hanna Lubin, are calling boys and girls of this generation "Gen Responsible". They have had relatively high exposure to news and the economy because of social media; they are worried about their prospects, savvy about financial issues and believe in preparing for the future.
In Deloitte’s latest Technology, Media and Telecommunications Predictions, it warns that, as far as women succeeding in IT jobs, "it’s about education, but it is also about more than education". The industry needs to get better at recruiting, hiring, retaining and promoting. That’s where my next book, The Glass Wall: Success Strategies For Women At Work, will explore.
It looks like the girls are coming and they are ready to rewrite the code – literally. Businesses need to be ready to reward their talent.
Sue Unerman is the chief strategy officer at MediaCom