Published April 27, 2015.

Since the Milken Institute's founding more than two decades ago, one focus has been to widen access to capital and employment opportunities for groups that have historically been underrepresented. In the past few years, we have placed a special emphasis on women.

The philosopher of science, Sarah Richardson, reminds us that "99% of the human genome is identical, whether man or woman." Yet gender differences that truly are skin-deep have led to barriers and hiring patterns in the worlds of business and finance that perpetrate discrimination. Sometimes that discrimination is by design. But often – and more insidiously – it occurs unconsciously and is thus the harder to expose and confront.

Some of the most interesting work in social science in recent years has been on how executives, when hiring (or providing business opportunities), may make what they believe are bias-free decisions, but are in fact deeply rooted in the tendency for like to hire like. Recent research also suggests that the effective intelligence of problem-solving teams amounts to more than the sum of the members' IQs. As Anita Woolley (Carnegie-Mellon) and Thomas Malone (MIT) concluded, "If a team includes more women, its collective intelligence rises.

"As part of our women's initiative, we have been acting to raise awareness of these findings in our many meetings – and to drive awareness of what needs to be done. At this year's Global Conference, we are providing a powerful platform for female perspectives on a variety of topics, and with a range of speakers. One of them is the founder of the U.K.'s 30% Club, whose goal is to see that at least 3 in 10 directors of FTSE-100 boards are women by the end of this year.

We've been inspired by the 30% goal to make our own: for this year's Global Conference, we aim to ensure that 30 percent of the speakers are women. (Last year, we were above the 20 percent mark.) This year, we are also working with private sector partners to develop an internship program that will include work at the Milken Institute and in the private sector, providing the intern with both for-profit and non-profit experience.

As proud as we are of these steps, we recognize it's just a beginning. All of us at the Institute are looking forward to expanding our women's initiative – and its impact – in the years to come.

Michael Klowden

CEO and President


Michael Klowden, CEO and President