"It's not just the nice thing to do, it's the smartest possible thing to do."

By Madeline Farber
April 7, 2017

On stage at the Women in the World Summit in New York on Thursday, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau—an outspoken feminist—stressed the importance of promoting more women to positions of power.

“It isn’t just the nice thing to do, it’s the smartest possible thing thing to do. We can’t just talk about how women need to be empowered without talking to the people who unfairly still have more power: the men.” He added: “The men have to be part of the solution.”

As for getting more women on boards, Trudeau said he hopes companies will stop appointing more women just because of “public pressure,” but rather because of the benefits of doing so. Indeed, research has shown that board diversity is good for business, broadening talent and inspiring new ideas and innovation. But many companies are still lagging in this area: In 2015, women held just 18.8% of Fortune 1000 company board seats and 20.6% of the seats on Fortune 500 boards.

The prime minister also emphasized the economic benefits of empowering women: “When you think about the number of great ideas that get left on the table because women entrepreneurs or innovators don’t have the kind of access to capital that is given to men on startups, this something that will directly leave us less successful as a society if we don’t figure out how to empower and include women in every area,” he said.

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Trudeau is known for his left-leaning stance on women’s rights. And in March, he pledged $650 million over three years for women’s sexual and reproductive health—a decision he made because “a lack of choices in reproductive health mean that they [women] either are at risk of death, or simply cannot contribute and cannot achieve their potential,” he said at the time.

Trudeau echoed a similar sentiment on Thursday.

“If you empower women so they can, like a man, choose when and with whom to have a family,” he said, “empower them to be able to stay in school a few more years, [be] able to actually make choices around how they want to live their life, you’re empowering them so that the money we’re giving isn’t just maternal reproductive health, it’s also to maternal reproductive rights.”

He added: “It’s fundamentally a question of rights.”

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