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The World’s Most Powerful Women: April 5

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May is being praised for kicking off the second leg of her Gulf tour in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia yesterday by flouting the Foreign Office’s recommendations for female dress in the conservative nation. She stepped off the plane wearing loose trousers, a blue overcoat, and a light blue scarf draped around her neck, notably eschewing a headscarf for her meeting with the welcoming delegation. Her outfit has received praise for taking a stand against the regime’s curtailment of women’s rights and modes of dress.

Yet May’s wardrobe choice was hardly revolutionary. When former First Lady Michelle Obama donned a similar outfit on a visit to Saudi Arabia in 2015, she too was applauded for making a “bold political statement.” Hillary Clinton, former First Lady Laura Bush, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and French National Front leader Marine Le Pen have all nixed head coverings on visits to Saudi Arabia.

May’s comments on the rights of Saudi women, meanwhile, were not nearly as pointed. She told reporters that she hoped her visit to Riyadh, where women still need permission from male guardians to travel abroad—and sometimes even to work and study—would set an example for Saudi women. Yet she did not indicate any plans to overtly criticize how the Saudi kingdom treats women. “I hope that people see me as a woman leader, [and] will see what women can achieve and how women can be in significant positions,” she said, adding, “It’s important for me as a woman leader and as leader of the government of the United Kingdom to maintain the relationships that are important to us as a country, for our security, and our trade for the future.”

May’s understated approach to pushing for women’s rights in the Gulf is characteristic of the way she’s tiptoed around the subject throughout her tenure at 10 Downing. For someone who once donned a “This is what a feminist looks like” t-shirt and founded an initiative to help Conservative women run for office, May’s subtle, small efforts to advocate for women as prime minister don’t merit much applause.

Indeed, May doesn’t even seem to know if she still considers herself a feminist. When Vogue’s Gaby Wood asked her if she’d use the word to describe herself, May tried to laugh off the question, responding, “I haven’t thought about that for a very long time!” Her effort to rekindle the U.S.-U.K. special relationship by cozying up to President Donald Trump in January also did little to bolster her feminist credentials.

While May has done much to advance women in politics, filling half her cabinet positions with women, her party’s austerity policies will hit women the hardest; they’ll carry an estimated 85% of the burden of government changes to social services and taxes by 2020. May claims not to think much about what her legacy will look like. If she hopes to be remembered as an advocate for women around the world, it’ll take more than just dressing the part.

—Linda Kinstler

@lindakinstler

EUROPE/MIDDLE EAST/AFRICA

An even splitThe U.K. Parliament’s Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee issued long-awaited recommendations today on how companies can regain the public’s trust. Among its most striking suggestions is that women should account for half of senior executive appointments at all listed U.K. companies from 2020. That target goes far beyond the already-established goal of putting women in 33% of executive positions on boards by the same date.Financial Times

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Getting the worst of it
Zandile Gumede, the first female mayor of Durban, South Africa, is convinced climate change is worse on women. She says because of their household tasks in some regions of the world—collecting water, food, and firewood—women feel the brunt of extreme weather. Plus, they’re more likely to give their portions to husbands and sons when food is scarce. That’s why Gumede and other female mayors like Patricia de Lille of Cape Town and Anne Hidalgo of Paris attended the first C40 Women4Climate conference last month in Manhattan to ensure women have a role in solving the problem.
New York Times
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WWASWGD?
To mark Equal Pay Day, several brands, including career site The Muse, teamed up to create an “equal pay chatbot.” Based on Cindy Gallop, the British advertising consultant and creator of MakeLoveNotPorn, the bot (which can be found by searching “ask Cindy Gallop” on Facebook) guides users through the practicalities of asking for more money. One piece of advice: “…ask yourself WWASWGD? What Would A Straight White Guy Do? Do that.”
Fortune

THE AMERICAS

Susan in the spotlight
Susan Rice, who served as President Barack Obama’s ambassador to the UN and national security advisor, is now at the center of Trump’s unsubstantiated claims that the previous administration tapped his phones. Fortune explains how her alleged “unmasking” of Trump officials caught up in surveillance of foreign targets landed her there.
Fortune
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Gag rule guidance
In January, the Trump administration reinstated the so-called gag rule that prohibits the U.S. from funding any NGO that provides abortion counseling as part of its services. The U.S. issued its first cut under that guideline yesterday, ending its contribution to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), an agency that promotes family planning in more than 150 countries. The state department—whose decision will cost the UNFPA $32.5 million this year—said the agency supports or participates in a program of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization in China. The UNFPA says that claim is “erroneous” and that its work breaks no U.S. laws.
BBC
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It takes a village
Companies are adding maternity concierge services to help women balance the demands of pregnancy and childcare with their work schedules, in some cases planning baby showers, recommending stroller brands, and paying for employees to bring their nannies along on business trips. One concierge even helped an employee pick a baby name. Supporting employees during the transition to parenthood is a strategic move to keep women advancing professionally at a critical time. “We’re like a wedding planner, but we’re your baby planner,” one concierge told the Wall Street Journal.
Wall Street Journal

ASIA-PACIFIC

Doubling down on diversity
Singapore has plans to double women’s representation on boards to 20% by 2020 in order to catch up with other nations when it comes to gender diversity. Yesterday, the government’s Diversity Action Committee issued a six-step plan for meeting that goal. It will require companies to disclose diversity policies, to explain how board compositions fit their business needs, and to encourage investors to prioritize gender diversity.
Bloomberg
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Demand for diplomas
Indian women are enrolling in business school in unprecedented numbers as local companies increasingly prioritize gender diversity. The 2013 Companies Act made it mandatory for firms to have at least one woman on their boards; to fulfill demand, many professional women are turning to one-year executive MBA courses to top-up their qualifications.
Economic Times

IN BRIEF

Ivanka Trump: ‘I don’t know what it means to be complicit’
Fortune

What could I possibly learn from a mentor half my age? Plenty.
New York Times

ADHD is different for women
Atlantic

Samira Wiley’s most radical protest is being herself
New York Magazine

At least 13 companies have pulled ‘O’Reilly Factor’ ads over sexual harassment claims
Fortune

 

PARTING WORDS

“If they suck, I vote against them. If they’re worthy, I vote for them.”
--Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, on how she voted on Trump's cabinet picks.