High cost of bias

Lagarde and Trudeau, 2 world powers, discuss gender equality around the globe

The head of the International Monetary Fund and Canada’s prime minister on the economics of doing the right thing

International Monetary Fund managing director Christine Lagarde joined Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Monday in Toronto at the second annual Women in the World Canada Summit for a conversation on gender equality that was moderated by journalist Katie Couric.

Both Lagarde and Trudeau are veterans of the Women in the World stage and both are outspoken on gender issues, but Couric opened with a question for the prime minister about the status of a Nafta deal with Canada, the U.S. and Mexico.

“Sorry to disappoint,” Trudeau said, regretting that he had no news to break. “But we continue to work hard and be positive and are optimistic we can get to a win-win for all three countries.” He added that whatever deal is reached “has to be the right deal, a good deal.”

After that, the three touched on a range of topics including prioritizing the inclusion of women in government and business not only in Canada, but around the world. Trudeau, who when he took office in 2015 made headlines for appointing a gender-balanced cabinet, discussed what went on behind the scenes to achieve that and why it was so important on a symbolic level, beyond just being “the right thing to do.”

“Now the challenge,” he said, “is around retention because politics is still a very difficult game. There’s still huge barriers and [an] old boys’ approach in many ways that cause real challenges” to changing the culture within.

Lagarde discussed her time at a law firm when she was a young mother and how she was able to take advantage of child care facilities that she said were very accessible at the time. Still, years later, many countries don’t make it easy for working moms — or fathers, for that matter — and Lagarde and Trudeau agreed bringing about change in that regard is a high priority.

Couric then steered the conversation to the topic of women not just increasing their numbers in the corporate world, but increasing their numbers in positions of leadership. Couric said it was frustrating that more women aren’t being given top jobs in big companies. Lagarde agreed and said she’s actually had a philosophical shift of her approach to the problem. She thinks the answer is the implementation of quotas for big businesses to be mandated to hire more women.

“I used to think there shouldn’t be quotas, but I have massively changed my mind on that,” Lagarde told the audience before explaining what led to the the major turnaround in her thinking. Watch highlights from and the complete video of the panel at the top of this page.

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