There are 2.5 billion people living on less than $2 a day, 70% percent of whom are women. That means more than half the world’s workforce is either dormant or underutilized. If we want to promote economic growth and stability across the world, we need to start by providing women with economic opportunities.
Putting aside the important and justified social argument of gender equality, there is an enormous economic case for investing in women everywhere. Data shows that the single greatest untapped force in the world today is a woman. When you invest in a woman so she can access the resources she needs, she starts her own business(es), generates an income, employs others and contributes to the overall community economy. In fact, the 2012 Global Gender Gap report by the World Economic Forum revealed that closing the gender gap can increase national GDP by up to 16%.
The good news is that a recent Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) study of 59 economies showed that for the first time in 13 years, women in Ghana, Nigeria and Thailand are creating businesses at a greater rate than men. In Brazil, Ecuador, Uganda and Switzerland, the rates are nearly equal. This report shows a shift in the status quo across the developing world.
The findings of the GEM study certainly demonstrate progress. Yet despite the overwhelming evidence of progress, women continue to do 66% of the world's work while receiving only 10% of the pay. It’s time we take a stand and promote equality in workplaces around the world.
I recently attended the Women Deliver 2013 conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Each year, this conference brings together thousands of advocates and experts from 170 countries (including corporate leaders, policymakers, NGOs, media and others) to focus on ways to improve the health and well-being of girls and women around the world. I joined nearly 4,000 people passionate about achieving greater equality and opportunities for women everywhere. The commitments made to maternal health were remarkable, proving that women are becoming a top development priority.
From the panel discussions to the government level plenaries, the conference also proved we must take a more aggressive approach to push economic empowerment to the top of the agenda. This is the key to creating broad based solutions to ending extreme poverty. This is not just about aid or charity, it’s about making a smart investment in one of the most underutilized resources in the world; women.
Beyond the economic impact, investing in women leads to transformational social change. A woman spends 90% of her income on her family, while men typically spend only 35%. This alone results in a generational domino effect creating greater opportunities for youth. It also shifts the paradigm in gender equality. Money talks. With economic potential and an income, a woman begins to gain a voice and become included in family financial decisions.
With the positive results and overwhelming evidence that women can have a tremendous impact socially and economically, it all seems so obvious. Why wouldn’t you invest in a woman?
Fortunately, we’re already seeing major companies investing in women. Gap Inc., for example, embarked on an initiative to improve the lives of women garment workers in South Asia. This created broad social change but has also helped improve vendor efficiency. Smart business and economic development is about leveraging all of your assets to create maximum impact.
It’s time we encourage more organizations throughout the public and private sectors to invest in women. We know that investing in women helps speed up the development of local economies and creates more equitable societies. It’s not just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do.