Laura Liswood co-founded and is the Secretary General of the Council of Women World Leaders, composed of past and present women presidents and prime ministers. In this role she has become the only person to interview all 19 then active heads of state. We spoke to Laura ahead of the Women World Changers summit to understand a little more about her findings during the establishment of the council, it’s impact and the most important change needed for diversity.
LU: You’ve complied interviews with all 19 women heads of state, was there a common attribute/strength among them?
LL: They all indicated they had a passion for their work. Many said that with the over scrutiny they felt as women, they would have given up if they didn't feel so strongly about the work and good they felt they were doing. Some indicated they felt they lead differently then men leaders, bringing different people to the table and hearing more from grass roots people
LU: If there were more female leaders with these kind of attributes, what kind of impact do you think this would have on our world?
LL: It is really hard to know what would happen if a majority of world leaders were women. We would like to imagine that there would be more women at the table, negotiating, participating, speaking their voice and providing their unique living experiences. It is too broad to believe that there would be fewer conflicts but we can certainly hope so. Some research from Indian panchayets with a critical mass of women in the local councils does show that resources are allocated differently. They are given more to health, clean water, education, community building than what male dominated local councils used to do.
LU: You established the Council of Women World Leaders in 1996, a collection of current and former women prime ministers and presidents with the mission to mobilize the highest-level women leaders globally for collective action on issues of critical importance to women. What do you believe to be the network’s greatest victory to date?
LL: First and foremost, there are now 65 women who are members of the Council so the number has grown from when it was started. I think more people are aware of the different women leaders in power now. It used to be that people could only think of Margaret Thatcher but now leaders like Angela Merkel and Teresa May are well known. I believe the Council has been a catalyst for other organizations engaging women leaders. The Council has also helped shaped policy particularly when we have convened women in ministerial positions. The Council has also had a robust fellows program inspiring the next generation of women.
LU: You have held some vital and key strategic roles, in which of these do you believe you had the greatest impact and why?
LL: Perhaps my diversity work has had an impact as through my speaking and writing I hope that I have been able to reach out to many people to think about diversity in new ways. Of course, the Council was unique when it started and got a great deal of attention early on.
LU: Your book The Loudest Duck provides parables and anecdotes to illustrate the challenges to traditional workplace efforts along with strategies for creating truly effective workplaces for all. What do you believe to be the single most important change that companies today need to undertake to support a diverse workplace?
LL: Companies need to look at the behavior of their leadership and management and understand the impact they have on the culture of an organization. Many companies work hard at helping under represented groups develop skills but I see a need for both individual and institutional changes. I call that the Seed and the Soil-the individual's own development and the organizations understanding of the many dynamics that go on when there are both dominant and non dominant groups in their organization.
Attendees of Women World Changers can expect to leave Laura Liswood's session with an understanding of the economics of a changing and diverse world and bold actions to achieve the true value of diversity.