Standing by women: Three ways men can champion women

There is no lack of women leaders in the global development community, and if we, as men, make it a point to champion them, we can play our small part in paving the way for their advancement.

By Raj Kumar - President & Editor-in-Chief, Devex

How organized are the contacts in your mobile phone? Believe it or not, the way you store people’s emails and phone numbers - including their full names for example - is one of thousands of factors that could matter for a new kind of credit score. Other factors include how many social media apps you use (a moderate amount is better than dozens), the financial transactions you make using your phone, and whether you place calls late at night (another count against you).

This modern-day credit score is from a startup social enterprise called Tala that aims to break open the financial services industry for the 2 billion people who are currently outside the system. Most of these so-called “unbanked” people are women, and not having a quick and inexpensive way to borrow and save can send families back into extreme poverty when they are faced with sudden medical expenses, tuition payments, or opportunities for their small businesses.

Tala has begun to crack open this market using their innovative credit scores that work for people who have never had a formal financial history and don’t get a pay stub. The brainchild of Shivani Siroya, a former UN staffer who founded the social enterprise when she was 24 years old, Tala has now made around 5 million loans worth about $250 million in Kenya, Tanzania, Philippines, and Mexico. To do that, Siroya has raised impressive sums of venture capital - $30 million in just her last round.

As the editor-in-chief of Devex, the media platform that covers everything from climate change to the fight to end hunger to ensuring women have access to the financial system, I have unfortunately seen very few examples like Siroya’s.

Our own global development industry - a mission-driven industry designed to address some of the world’s greatest challenges - has a dearth of women leaders and is still too often a boys’ club. You can see it to varying degrees across NGOs, foundations, foreign aid agencies, development banks, and even at the United Nations - all institutions formally committed to gender equality.

Starting a social enterprise and raising capital is hard enough, but it’s made much harder when gender bias continues to exist.

Fortunately, there’s no lack of women leaders in the global development community, and if we, as men, make it a point to champion them, we can play our small part in paving the way for others like Shivani Siroya. At Devex I’m fortunate to work alongside many inspiring and talented women leaders. Here’s three things they’ve taught me about what we can do:

First, take a look in the mirror. It’s important to humbly challenge yourself and your own organization before giving advice to others. We’ve got a long way to go at Devex, but I’ve tried to use my privileged position as a male leader to emphasize the importance of building a pipeline of talented women who could - and have - grown into leadership roles here. I’ve also tried to use the resources at our disposal here to shed light on the importance of women’s leadership everywhere.

Second, check your informal networks and circles of friends. The reality is that most people get a leg up in their professional lives because of their contacts and the circles they run in. As a male social entrepreneur, I’ve noticed that not all the environments I find myself in are inclusive. And, nowadays, I’m making it a point to recognize which environments are still male-dominant and think carefully about what I can do to open them up to women, even if it’s something as simple as bringing along an up-and-coming female leader to an unofficial industry event or nominating a female colleague to an exclusive fellowship or council.

Finally, consider an attitude adjustment. It can be natural for male leaders to feel defensive about the topic of women’s leadership. But if we worry only about “do no harm” it’s hard to make real progress on an entrenched issue like women’s leadership. After all, no one becomes a leader overnight - it takes a career progression, mentorship, and opportunities. If male leaders can shift to a "let's do this together" approach to inclusivity, I'm confident they’ll see more ongoing ways to support women at all levels of their careers.

For the millions of professionals working on some of the world’s toughest challenges - aid workers and global development professionals of all stripes - women’s empowerment is at the forefront of what we do. It’s even one of the Global Goals: “SDG 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls”.

I know men in our community believe in that goal. But we can’t achieve it without championing women like Shivani Siroya - who we are looking forward to showcasing as one of our featured speakers at our flagship conference this year - leading the way.




Raj Kumar is the founding President & Editor-in-Chief of Devex, the media platform for the global development community. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, a media leader and former humanitarian council chair for the World Economic Forum, and has interviewed on-camera and on-stage hundreds of global luminaries on the most important challenges of our time. Follow him on his personal Twitter account and on the Devex Twitter account.