It’s official: Women are good for business.
This year the G20 have included “women” as a driver of economic growth as part of its overall growth agenda.
What does this mean?
According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD is a unique forum where the governments of 34 democracies with market economies work with each other, as well as with more than 70 non-member economies to promote economic growth, prosperity, and sustainable development) if OECD countries saw full convergence of men and women aged 15-64 in the work force, the GDP ("gross domestic product") in these countries could increase by 12% over the next 15 years.
(GDP is the "gross domestic product". It's one of the primary indicators used to gauge the health of a country's economy. It represents the total dollar value of all goods and services produced over a specific time period; you can think of it as the size of the economy.)
Women make up half of the world’s population, but their workforce participation – that is, their economic contribution – remain below their potential, despite a decrease in the education gap between men and women over the age of 15.
Women Are Flat-Lining
Basically, women’s workforce participation has flat-lined over the last two decades, despite increased educational opportunities and a measurable reduction in poverty rates. The numbers suggest something that women themselves acknowledge: Female representation in senior business positions and in political office is mediocre at best. So this is not just about women working, it’s about allowing and supporting women to realize their full potential in the economy.
These numbers, facts, findings and conclusions can be found in a report entitled “Women in the Economy: Global Growth Generators” (“The WG3 Effect”) produced by Citi’s Global Perspectives and Solutions, collating global figures from the OECD, IMF, World Bank and others to come up with an insightful report. It was presented to the public earlier this month at the U.S. Embassy in Paris as part of the American Chamber of Commerce in France’s Women’s Day programming.
To give you an idea of female workforce participation for those between the ages of 15 and 64: in 2013, 34% of women in Turkey were employed; 44% in Mexico and 54% in Italy. On the higher (and geographically northern) end of the scale, 78% of women in Sweden were in the workforce, and 78% in Switzerland.
Why Aren’t There More?
The Citi report finds two reasons for lack of female participation in the workforce:
1. Policies: Many countries still erect barriers to female participation and advancement, including such policies as gender-based discrimination in nutritional intake during childhood, differential access to education, and limits on physical movement (such as restrictions on driving or in being in pubic without a male escort). Other policies are simply discriminatory practices – the “old boys’ network” and other artificial barriers that function independently of aptitude and qualification.
2. Outcomes Of These Restrictive Policies: It is a close association, resulting in lower educational achievement, lower wages and fewer women in top jobs.
The Citi report shows, not surprisingly, that emerging markets have the most room to grown, but there are ample opportunities in the “first world” as well. Often, in the latter, what’s needed is a change in mindset rather than establishing new policies or enacting complicated legal measures.
Indeed, policies are often the first step in changing mindsets. To wit: a separate study entitled “Is Diversity Profitable?” Evidence from a Global Survey by the non-profit Washington-based Peterson Institute for International Economics showed that the single most statistically measurable factor in increasing the number of women in top-level executive positions was … paternity leave, because, among other things, it took the burden of childcare off women’s shoulders and gave fathers “permission” to spend time at home on child care.
Policies such as paternity leave also show that businesses themselves can compensate for shortfalls in governmental policies affecting women. And, the authors also note that countries scoring well in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index consistently score well in the WEF’s Global Competitiveness Ranking.
And finally … there are the potential long-term benefits for future generations, raised in a spirit of equal opportunity.