According to an estimate by the According to an estimate by the World Economic Forum, society needs more than a century to achieve gender parity in employment and politics.

“There are false narratives and biased assumptions that we are using as justification for lack of progress,” said Carolyn Tastad, Group President for North America at Procter & Gamble. “We’ve got to get rid of labels,” she said, such as the idea that women lack confidence.

One study found that men apply to roles when they fit 60% of the criteria required, while women generally only apply when they fit 100% of the criteria. While many organisations have a 50-50 representation at lower levels of the workforce, this is not reflected in middle and upper management. Quotas and targets are one way to close that gap but should not be relied upon. “We don’t want fake promotions to close the gap,” said Tastad, but rather a fundamental change of the culture.

“Optimism gives some kind of certainty that what you do is important,” said Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite to an audience in Davos, Switzerland. “Figures say one thing, but we are responsible for changing them,” she added.

Echoing the President of Lithuania, Canada’s Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland urged for specific policy targets.

“We shouldn’t be afraid of having targets,” said Freeland, emphasising that forcing a woman to make a  false choice between her family and career prevents women from succeeding. Sufficient paid maternity leave and more paternity leave can help to dispel that illusion, she noted, but employers should also think more holistically in establishing equality-based practices and norms.

 “We need to visualise that it is possible with role models,” said Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the former President of Chile.