Winnie Byanyima, the executive director of Oxfam International, said that the power imbalance between genders will never be righted if women remain economically unequal to men. Female laborers, such as domestic workers, garment makers and factory employees assembling smartphones in developing countries, “are the bottoms of the supply chains of big business,” kept down by social norms that “justify their economic exploitation,” she said.
“The C.E.O.s who are here, these are their employees,” Ms. Byanyima said to the audience. “The private sector has an important role to play — they can use their factories, how they source their products, how they advertise” to empower women.
Public service efforts, like the Ad Council-supported “It’s On Us” campaign about preventing sexual violence, can help, according to Lisa Sherman, the nonprofit group’s chief executive. The Ad Council recently joined with David Schwimmer, the actor and producer, to make videos showing re-enactments of real accounts of sexual harassment to educate viewers about appropriate behavior.
Teaching empathy to students is another strategy, said the panelist Dacher Keltner, a psychology professor at the University of California, Berkeley. Men tend to gravitate toward an aggressive, “top-down Machiavellian” understanding of power, but the more collaborative, evenhanded style of leadership associated with women has been gaining momentum, he said.
“What’s happening worldwide is that the model of power is changing,” he said, calling it “a revolution” that is “reconceptualizing sexual dynamics.”
But some worried about reconciling problematic legacies of the past, like revered leaders’ reputations for philandering, with the standards of conduct now being embraced. From the audience, Rick Goings, the chief executive of Tupperware Brands, asked the panelists if society should consider reinterpreting stories of historical figures “who were actually not legends — they were predators.”
Ms. Byanyima acknowledged that many nation-builders were known to mistreat women.
“I don’t think it’s helpful to go dismantling the past, but you can refuse to honor aspects of it that you don’t believe in anymore,” she said. “Leadership is so defined by men, and we need to revise that — we need to be able to say that the people we honor are not the conquerors, but the peacemakers.”