International Women’s Day – a time for bold change

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Each year, International Women’s Day celebrates the achievement of women socially, culturally, economically, and politically. The theme for this year’s celebration is #BeBoldForChange. There are few women who are more qualified to speak about bold change for women in business than Schneider Electric’s SVP of Customer Transformation, Iram Shah.

Ms. Shah has 25 years of experience working in Fortune 500 companies to help transform cultures and drive change. That experience is just one reason she has been chosen to deliver the keynote address at the 2017 WorldChicago annual celebration of International Women’s Day.

Ms. Shah is a perfect choice to speak on this day, as she is a truly international woman who has worked tirelessly as a business woman and humanitarian to lead real change in the world. Born in Pakistan, Iram has worked in the U.S., Singapore, Thailand, London, and Switzerland. Before entering the business world, she received her MBA in Finance and International Business from the prestigious University of Chicago Booth School of Business and Advanced Management Program from Harvard Business School. She was also named as one of the 100 most influential business leaders in the UK.

“I have a diverse background across 5 countries and 4 industries” Iram says. “This gives me a unique insight into how to innovate and transform cultures and business models.”

While her impressive background certainly makes her qualified to speak about change management in business, her passion for diversity and inclusion is what inspires her push for real change in how women can achieve their potential.

“Research has shown that diversity drives higher results,” she says. “It is not only smart business but also has a lasting positive social impact.”

The numbers certainly seem to back her up. A recent report by the McKinsey Global Institute found that $12 trillion could be added to global GDP by advancing gender equality around the world. While those findings are inspiring, there is still real work that needs to be done by global business leaders to reach that goal. Iram is confident that Schneider Electric is on the right track when it comes to this subject, and thinks it can act as an example to other international corporations.

“Schneider Electric is progressing on this journey,” Iram says about her company’s work on gender parity. “I am encouraged to see our leadership, specifically our CEO, Jean-Pascal Tricoire, taking diversity seriously, talking powerfully about it, and willing to take a stand for it.”

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In addition to working for women in business, Iram spends much of her spare time working on philanthropic causes. She has been on several nonprofit boards. Currently she is serving on the board of Habitat For Humanity Chicagoland and is chairwoman on the Sonia Shah Organization, a non-profit foundation started by her late daughter.

“The Sonia Shah Organization is all about diversity and gender parity at a very basic level…the education and empowerment of underprivileged girls and women,” she says.

Over the past couple of years, Iram’s work with the Sonia Shah Organization has helped to build a school for girls and vocational center for women in Kangra, Pakistan where only three out of 10 girls will ever have a chance to go to primary school.  The foundation also provides college scholarships to deserving girls in the U.S.

Her passion for female empowerment is clear. And so while she was an obvious choice for WorldChicago to give a keynote speech, the recognition is not lost on Iram.

“This was an honor for me,” she says. “This is a great organization that promotes and coordinates professional, cultural, educational, and youth leadership exchange programs across 150 countries.”

Her selection also puts her in some pretty good company. Last year’s keynote speaker was Sheila Watt-Cloutier, a Nobel Prize nominee for her work on environmental issues and winner of the Aboriginal Achievement Award from Sweden; considered to be an “alternative Nobel Prize”.

“Sheila is one of the world’s most recognized environmental and human rights advocates,” Iram says of her fellow WorldChicago speaker.

International Women’s Day is just one day on the calendar where women and girls are celebrated and encouraged to do more. But there is work to be done by women and men every day to reach gender parity goals. That fact is obvious to Iram, especially when it comes to young women just beginning their education or careers.

“2017 and beyond is about ideas and ideals, it is about connection, technology and digital,” she says to young women entering technical fields. “There will be a lot more opportunities in these areas. My advice is to be bold, confident, and follow your dream.”

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