During the highly-publicized United State of Women Summit, organized by the White House and held in Washington, DC earlier this month, billionaire Warren Buffett once again proved that he is a staunch advocate of women’s rights while speaking on a panel moderated by Dina Habib Powell, the current head of impact investing for Goldman Sachs.
Buffett, who is the CEO and Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway and whose net worth is an estimated $66.3 billion, has long been a vocal proponent of equality in the workplace, and through his philanthropic efforts and his own business endeavors, he has proven time and time again that he practices what he preaches. In 2003, for example, Buffett appointed the first woman, (somewhat ironically named) Charlotte Guyman, to the board of Berkshire Hathaway (and at the USWS panel, he revealed that this historic act was actually first proposed by his wife). Since then, two more women have been placed on the Berkshire board, a notable fact in a world where female executives are still far outnumbered by their male counterparts.
In discussing why businesses owned by women should be given the same investment and support as those owned by men, Buffett provided an inspiring anecdote of his own on the topic. Years ago, Buffett invested in a furniture store in Omaha called Nebraska Furniture Mart, which was was owned by an 89-year-old woman who did not know how to read or write, but whom Buffett recognized as a masterful business-owner. His investment allowed her to grow the operation so much that it is now the largest North American home furnishing store, forever cementing in his mind the value of supporting women in the workplace.
In response to being asked why he considers himself “bullish” on women’s issues, Buffett stated that by not professionally or financially empowering women, America is “playing with one hand tied behind its back.” I’m sure I speak for many women when I say that it’s truly refreshing to hear someone who is the ultimate embodiment of “The Man” making such an impassioned case for women’s rights. Buffett is well known for his philanthropic efforts, so it’s not terribly surprising that he would stand up for the underrepresented – but that doesn’t discount the tremendous significance of one of the world’s richest men publicly stating that women are just as capable as men, and are thus deserving of the same opportunities.