Laura Liswood argues that our ability to solve problems would improve if women were better represented. The interview is part of the Risk Response Network’s “What if?” series.

What is your main field of expertise?
Developing policies of diversity and inclusion that lead to women’s empowerment.

Given your research, what would you say is the most under-appreciated risk?
The most under-appreciated risk is that organisations, corporations, countries and their governments are too slow to realise that women have to be included in the decision making on issues that impact us all. Take population growth. By the time they figure out that women are integral to this issue, the problem will have grown further out of control.

Climate change and environmental issues, ageing societies, economics, employment, all the major global challenges need a balanced gender perspective. Every day that we don’t figure out how women are can be included in the problem solving, is a day that slows us finding solutions.

How would you frame this risk as a hypothetical scenario: “what if” this was to actually happen?
Imagine if women were 50% of the decision makers. What if the established research on the positive impact of women on the economy, on population, on health and well-being were taken seriously into account by policy-makers? What if women were a critical mass at every decision making table; if they were actively involved in conflict prevention or in post conflict resolution instead of being excluded or considered only as an afterthought? Imagine the different and more sustainable decisions that would be made.

In your analysis, how might this “what if” scenario unfold?
We would immediately have more ways of solving problems. You know the old saying that if the only tool you have is a hammer, then everything looks like a nail? If we have more knowledge and awareness through the input of different people with different ideas, we have many more tools in our toolbox: more knowledge, more awareness, more innovative thought, more creativity, more awareness of the impacts of policies, and a greater range of points of view helping to resolve issues. Our capacity to solve problems quickly would increase straight away.

When Rosabeth Moss Kanter was asked how the world would be different if women were 50% of the decision makers, she said the world would already be different if women were 50% of the decision makers. That’s the sort of awareness I want to raise.

What if this doesn’t happen and world leaders won’t move more quickly to include women?
In countries with high fertility rates or where there is food insecurity and fragile states,  unless population growth is moderated, the problems of famine, youth unemployment and even high youth death rates will continue. We need women to be fully engaged and committed to population control, or the problems will continue and increase beyond the point of return.

It’s like climate change. There is going to be a point where if we don’t step in to do things to moderate climate change, we’re going to get to a point where we can’t turn back. There will be no more elasticity left in the ecosystem. I want us to turn back from the edge of the cliff that we are speeding towards. I want to slow us down, and temper the risks by finding new solutions to global problems like population growth.

Who would be mostly impacted by this “what if” scenario and how?
In the short term, those most impacted are the poor. I believe we are already seeing the growing gap between the have and the have-nots. From an economic perspective, from the perspective of access to healthcare and to fresh water, and from the perspective of environmental degradation, the split is already occurring. In the long term, however, failure to include women in decision-making on issues such as population growth will seriously affect all of us.

What is your top mitigation approach for this risk?
The major decision making tables where these issues are raised, whether it’s intergovernmental organisations like the G20, or other forums, must include a critical mass of women to have women’s views adequately represented.

What do you consider as a critical mass?
If I were to put a figure on it, I would say a critical mass is at least 30%. In Norway, for example, the figure for women on boards is 40%. I like framing the idea of a critical mass at a minimum of 40% for either gender. That would make a real difference.

Pictured: German Chancellor Angela Merkel with the Danish Prime Minister,  Helle Thorning-Schmidt

Laura LiswoodLaura Liswood is Secretary General of the Council of Women World Leaders and a Member of the World Economic Forum Risk Response Network.