Women are much more than merely a vulnerable group. They are slightly more than half of humanity with the same inherent potential as men to contribute to sustainable development. When women’s full participation is impeded, we all lose. Evidence is mounting that gender equality and women’s empowerment increases profits and sharpens the competitive edge. Put simply, the pie gets bigger and we can all get a bigger slice.
For example, the 2010 McKinsey white paper, “The Business of Empowering Women,” based on a global survey of 2,300 senior private sector executives, informs us that companies that are already focusing their efforts on women are reporting measurable business benefits. One-third surveyed said their investments in women have already resulted in greater profits and another third said their investments would soon show profit.
Additionally, Goldman Sachs has estimated that GDP could be increased dramatically by reducing the gap in employment rates between men and women. By boosting women’s employment, they calculated that the Eurozone could increase GDP by 13%, Japan by 16% and the US by 9%. Another startling fact is that for every year beyond fourth grade that girls attend school, it is estimated that earnings rise 20%. Among other things, this means a major boost to any economy.
Companies must change their operating cultures and leaders make it clear that women’s empowerment and inclusion is key to the company’s business strategy. They must address workplace issues of major concern to women: sexual violence and harassment; pregnancy, leave and childcare policies; pay equity and tailored education and training for women and for men. And when they do, they’ll often find that it is not just the right thing to do, it also makes business sense, decreasing staff turnover, improving morale and loyalty, and realizing a more productive workforce overall.
On the ground, it’s extremely important that business procurement actively engage with women entrepreneurs and women-owned business so that the supply chain becomes an opportunity conveyer belt for women and that the community is involved and can benefit.
In this way, the Women’s Empowerment Principles-Equality Means Business can be very useful to businesses. These principles, launched by UNIFEM and the UN Global Compact on International Women’s Day, 8 March 2010, are voluntary guidance for business on practical actions to empower women in the workplace, marketplace and the community.
**Ursula Wynhove_EN is Special Assistant to the Executive Director in Global Compact and JJoan Libby Hawk is the Special Advisor to UN Women and UN Global Compact on their Women’s Empowerment Principles partnership initiative and CEO of Libby Hawk Associates.