The Milken Institute is turning its attention this year to women in the workplace, and it’s backing up words with action.
The annual conclave in Beverly Hills, California, for movers and shakers in the worlds of finance, politics and health care – often called “the Davos of the West” – now features a dozen panel discussions on gender equality. International Monetary Fund chair Christine Lagarde will help kick off the event Monday morning, and key speakers include Lockheed Martin Corp. chief executive officer Marillyn Hewson and US Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao.
Almost all of the 200 presentations will have at least one female panelist, and 250 of the 800 speakers overall are women.
Compare that with the first edition of the conference in 1998, when two of the 57 speakers were female.
“I believe in having the best talent represented, regardless of gender,” said first-time Milken panelist Marcie Frost, chief executive officer of the California Public Employees’ Retirement System. “But women have been underrepresented in prior events and their skills and expertise have not been adequately considered when the conferences are designed and panel topics chosen.”
This year’s programme is a far cry from the origins of the conference in the 1980s, when junk bond king Michael Milken invited clients of his former investment banking firm, Drexel Burnham Lambert, to an annual event that included corporate raiders T. Boone Pickens, Ivan Boesky and Ron Perelman. The testosteroneheavy affair, where hostile takeover deals were often hatched over cigars, earned the nickname The Predators’ Ball.
Richard Ditizio, the Milken Institute’s president, said his goal for this year’s conference was that about 30 per cent of all speakers be women, a number that also reflects the percentage of women attending the conference overall. The aim is to continue to push for more female representation in future years, he said.
“By some estimates, it’s going to take another 100 years for women to reach pay parity with men,” Ditizio said in an interview. “We’re trying to jump-start that.”
Growing effort
Conferences worldwide have been making efforts to involve more women, with the issue becoming even more in focus in the wake of the #MeToo movement that took hold in 2017. At the World Economic Forum in Davos this year, about 37% of panelists were women, according to forum data. Almost 95 per cent of sessions at Davos featured at least one female panelist, and women made up 22 per cent of the official guest list.
Many organisations, including Bloomberg News, require that there be at least one female speaker for an employee to participate on a panel. While women make up two-thirds of the support staff in the financial services industry, they represent only 15 per cent of the executives, according to research by Mercer Global.
The four-day Milken conference, which begins Sunday, now attracts more than 4,000 attendees, paying as much as $50,000 for tickets.
White House adviser Ivanka Trump will join Lockheed’s Hewson and others for a panel on “shared prosperity.” Chao will talk about the future of mobility as well as women in government. A conversation with Lagarde, the International Monetary Fund chair, starts Monday’s proceedings. One of this year’s gathering places at the Beverly Hilton hotel is a networking area called the “Equality Lounge.”
Among the speakers are three Trump cabinet officials: Chao, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who cut his visit short to attend trade talks in China.
Ivanka Trump’s husband, Jared Kushner, is scheduled to speak at a fireside chat Sunday.
Designer Diane von Furstenberg, former congresswoman Jane Harman and former Paramount Pictures chair Sherry Lansing will appear on a panel Monday moderated by “CBS This Morning” host Gayle King, addressing how older women can bring change in the workplace. On Tuesday venture capitalist Jesse Draper joins a group discussing the “Business Case for Investing in Women.”
Mindfulness, masculinity
The increased female presence gives conference organisers a chance to put a spotlight on a new generation of women leaders in finance, including Jean Hynes, senior managing director at Wellington Management, and Christine McCarthy, chief financial officer of Walt Disney Co. Actress Laura Dern will speak on mindfulness. Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to President Barack Obama, will discuss criminal justice reform. There’s even a panel on the current state of American masculinity, featuring Wade Davis, one the few openly gay former NFL players, and Tony Porter, an activist who advises sports leagues on how to prevent violence against women.
Not on the list of speakers this year are some panelists from the past, including former Wynn Resorts Ltd. CEO Steve Wynn, former CBS Corp. chief Leslie Moonves and New England Patriot’s owner Robert Kraft, who have been accused of sexual misconduct.
Milken, 72, spent 22 months in prison in the early 1990s after pleading guilty to securities and tax violations. He emerged, after a battle with cancer, with a big interest in health care. The conference, always a mix of high finance and holistic healing, includes early morning yoga, meditation and aromatherapy. This year’s edition includes a discussion of healthy eating with U2 guitarist The Edge, a panel on micro-dosing LSD and an opportunity to play with puppies.