Women have made invaluable contributions to the world, ranging from the discovery of radioactivity to the invention of windshield wipers. Still, women are far from being equal with men.
The World Economic Forum estimates that it will take us another 135 years before we can close the global gender gap, as the Covid-19 pandemic has raised "new barriers to building inclusive and prosperous economies and societies," Saadia Zahidi, managing director and head of the WEF's Center for the New Economy and Society, writes in the report. Women also make up a mere 8% of Fortune 500 CEOs.
While there's no clear answer to solve such gender disparities, we can find inspiration and new ideas in books. CNBC Make It spoke with three female CEOs about their top recommendations for books written by women and what we can learn from each title.
By Louise Erdrich
Recommended by Crystal Echo Hawk, founder and CEO of IllumiNative
This modern ghost tale is set in a Native-owned bookstore in Minneapolis during the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic and protests following the murder of George Floyd by police. In the midst of this chaos, the store's employees must solve the mystery of Flora, a stubborn ghost who haunts the aisles.
"Louise Erdrich is a national treasurer for Native Americans and one of the most significant writers of our time," Hawk says. "She flips the script on one of the most well-worn tropes about Native peoples — Native American burial grounds and Native spirits haunting non-Native places and peoples."
Using humor, historical references and creative details, Erdrich shows readers how the "violence and systemic racism against Native and Black people has deep roots in the fabric and founding of Minnesota and the United States, all of which started well before 2020," she adds. "It's a must-read."
By Drs. Fernette and Brock Eide
Recommended by Rachel Thomas, Co-founder and CEO of LeanIn.org
Dyslexia is one of the most common learning disabilities among children and affects about 20% of people in the United States, according to research from the National Institute of Health.
In "The Dyslexic Advantage", Drs. Brock and Fernette Eide, who are leading experts in studying dyslexia, debunk myths about the condition and explain the strengths of the dyslexic mind, focusing on how these strengths can give people an edge at work and in their lives.
Thomas shares that the book's core message — viewing dyslexia "not as a disability, but as a different approach to thinking and learning," resonated with her both as a mother of a dyslexic child and business leader.
More importantly, "it underscores how important it is for leaders to learn about experiences that are not our own and to lean into differences in how people think and work," she says. "It serves as an important reminder that too often we don't focus on people with disabilities — let alone people with invisible disabilities — when we talk about diversity, equity and inclusion, and that needs to change."
By Jane Austen
Recommended by Claire Babineaux-Fontenot, CEO of Feeding America
Jane Austen is often hailed as one of the best female authors of all time — and Babineaux-Fontenot sees her books as "cautionary tales." This is especially true of Austen's 1813 classic "Pride and Prejudice," which follows the turbulent courtship between Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy.
Although it is a romance novel on the surface, Babineaux-Fontenot says there's more to Austen's writing than musings on love.
"Her writing has forced me to look at my own presumptions — I was certain, absolutely certain, that Mr. Darcy was a bad person, and why?" she explains. "This and others of her writings helped me to test my assumptions [about people] in ways that few literary works have for me, and I think I've grown as a person through that reflection."