If the plight of children and the role of women is the key issue for the MEDEF Summer University [Universite d'Ete] 2009, Ms. Cherie Blair was a wonderful choice to open the conference. If her speech felt a little long, there were many interesting points raised in her 30 minute speech. I captured below a few sound bytes that resonated for me:
The Convention on the Rights of the Child, a universally agreed set of non-negotiable standards and obligations, is signed by all countries of the United Nations but two: Somalia and the United States. Maybe President Obama will sign up the US?
There are 1 billion children in the world lacking proper sanitation.
All the research and studies show that an investment in educating a girl [in third world countries] is a better investment than investing in a boy. Educated women have healthier, fewer and more educated children. And, educated women are likely to have a stronger voice in their family and their economy….
Educate a woman and you educate a family and a nation.”
Tony Blair was told by a patriarch of the backbench, back when he was serving as an opposition MP, that if he kept leaving the House of Commons promptly after the 7pm o’clock session (to take care of his children) without spending some time fraternising with “the boys” that he would never get anywhere in politics….
Ms. Blair described being a working mother as being an experiment in organized chaos… There is so much to do in managing and finding work-life balance. In order for the concept of “flexible work” to get to the next level it will take concrete actions — not words — led by the top [and visible] executives. On this point, I fully subscribe to the need to have role models, role models who can succeed to find that equilibrium all the while replying adequately to the pressures and needs of the company’s stakeholders.
As opposed to believing that the youth of today are aimless, shallow and uncultivated, Ms Blair insisted that today’s young people have incredible compassion, energy and depth. Plus, they have a connectivity across the world… It would seem that we, the parents, should be learning from our kids.
To a question from the floor about a good model to follow (outside of France) in terms of treating women and children, per Cherie Blair, there is no one best solution, but there is a range of models. If she did not specify which countries were in that range, Ms Blair referred to the World Economic Forum which scales the countries of the world in terms of the gender gap across a number of criteria. It’s true that the Nordic countries dominate the top 5, she said and that Europe has the best record among the regions. However, “the Scandinavian model is too prescriptive in terms of childcare,” meaning that women may not even have the choice to stay at home with their children. [I have written about the WEF Study previously on my blog .]
A woman who has taken a gap out of her career to have a child and take care of that child should be able to return to work under truly normal conditions. Ms Blair said, “[T]here is too much subtle culture in business that says ‘we know we have to [give a woman maternity leave, etc]‘… but, if you are going to do that, we know you are not really serious about your career…” This is a problem for women, and an even bigger problem for men who are interested in parental leave and a share on the home front because of the persistent prejudice on the career.
Overall, a well presented case… Hopefully, it did not fall on deaf — largely male — ears.