By Antonella Notari Vischer

You can find the original article on The Economist website

 

The undeveloped capabilities of women hold huge promise for global businesses 

The woes of the global economy are not only due to instability, but also because businesses are inadvertently not engaging with nearly half of the global population. With a refocus, we could be connecting with flourishing economies, rich new talent and vibrant markets. That refocus is women – an untapped market at least the size of China, yet still largely ignored.

Investing in women is a key route to creating more stable communities, economically fluid markets, a richer talent pool, new consumers and not to mention a more peaceful world.

Countless global organisations have found that women often achieve more and are more productive with the same resources as men. Furthermore, women’s economic empowerment has far-reaching effects across society, which often feeds directly into the sustainable development of communities.

The change makers

The Womanity Foundation’s WomenChangeMakers Fellowship programme, which supports transformational social entrepreneurs, has experienced fantastic returns.

One of the first fellows, the founder of Brazilian-based Rede Asta, trains women artisans to create products for the consumer market place. Following mentoring and finance training, she now supports 1,500 women.

In India, Safeena Husain has helped up to 110,000 girls who were not in school to enroll in primary education through her organisation Educate Girls. Other tactical investments have the potential to break down cultural barriers also. In 2009, the first Middle Eastern commercial women’s radio station Radio Nisaa was created. Its programming content challenges sexist norms and has more than 300,000 listeners, many of them men.

Set limitations

Such work means more rounded, and in-turn, more prosperous societies. However, in developing and emerging economies, many women still struggle to gain financial support, empowerment or agency. According to the UN, the global employment-to-population ratio was 77% for men and 50% for women in 2015. It also states that, women in full time jobs worldwide earn between 70-90% of what men do.

Women’s life chances can be limited all around. Many consider it inevitable to be raped, married as a child, not go to school, have a career or a bank account, or access to internet. This compares greatly to their brothers and husbands who have vastly different lives and expectations.

Although hard data on such situations is hard to come by, a recent commitment of US$80 million dollars by the Gates Foundation should fill some critical knowledge gaps, such as knowing how much time women and girls spend doing unpaid work, and what implications this has on their life choices.

The business view 

In the corporate world, the idea that investment in women is beneficial is widespread. However, the 2010 McKinsey report The Business of Empowering Women found that while most executive respondents believed that developing and emerging economies were crucial to their business, less than one in five had invested in women in these countries.

Of those who had invested, nearly 60% said this had increased the business’s profits by opening or expanding markets. McKinsey’s 2015 report Delivering the Power of Parity found that if women participated in the world of work to an identical extent as men, up to US$28 trn could be added to global GDP by 2025.

Aware of the high return, corporates have collectively invested more than US$ 300 million in women in underserved communities in recent years, according to a 2014 Dalberg report. This is mainly through employment opportunities, training and access to finance. While this support is absolutely essential for a woman to be truly economically empowered, the broader conditions are necessary. Safety, freedom of movement and expression, education and agency are also top priorities.