Women are an incredible influence on their families and communities, but their role does not end there since their economic participation is also an important driver of growth and development. Closing this gender gap for the markets could add trillions of dollars to global productivity, according to the International Labor Organization. From competition to profitability, gender diversity lets firms sell more and achieve key goals.
Despite the immense benefit with the economic empowerment of women, current systems often work against them rather than in support of them. It is past time for policies and solutions that support the full participation of women with the markets and societies at large. When women are counted and given leadership roles, the whole world would benefit.
The companies with women on the boards have higher sales and greater returns on invested capital compared to those with less gender diversity, as multiple research studies have shown. The recognition and protection of the economic and social rights of women can also fortify governance and accountability, which decreases the risks of democratic backsliding. Income for women can more than quadruple when they are able to own and inherit property. Asset and property rights allow women to establish credit and to receive protection against domestic violence.
But the burden of unpaid care work and lack of safe transportation keep women from work in many places. Less access to training, education, or some business sectors further hinders opportunity and upward mobility. Insufficient or nonexistent legal rights constrain personal freedoms and access to services while reinforcing numerous outdated gender norms. Harassment and violence also obstruct health and agency.
The pandemic worsened these issues but they are not new. For centuries, women have persisted despite the obstacles with ingenuity and sacrifice, often for the wider benefit of their families and communities. The health crisis has reminded us of this as women are a critical force with the front lines, showing for the past year that failure is not an option.
To further help them succeed, women must be seen and counted. We still do not collect enough data about women and girls, so they and the issues they deal with are often ignored with critical decisions. For instance, more than 50 countries do not break down health data about the coronavirus by sex, which would provide essential insights to help countries address new economic challenges that are presented by the pandemic.
Women must also be represented in leadership roles. Their participation and civic activities advance free and fair societies with all levels. Women hold a positive influence when it comes to transparency, income equality, standards of living, and national wealth. Their leadership is a catalyst for progress, notably in terms of growth, as the Bush Institute spotlights in a recent report on the economic empowerment of women.
Women must also have full participation in economies. Gender bias and societal norms have held women back for much of history. This includes disregard for domestic care duties borne by women and undervalued by society. The public and private sectors both have a role to move forward sustainable solutions. Nearly 40 percent of women in wage employment around the world do not have access to financial nets such as pensions, unemployment insurance, and maternity leave protection.
Women do 75 percent of unpaid work around the world, valued at almost $11 trillion, according to Oxfam. For each increase of two hours in unpaid care work, the participation rate for women in the labor force would drop by 10 points, according to the Gates Foundation. It is not a surprise such figures have risen in the current crisis. For the United States, women are almost three times less likely to work than men with child care demands amid the pandemic, according to the Census Bureau. Policies and ideas must better reflect and back the full spectrum of women.
As we consider the obstacles of the present and look to the hopes of the future, the economic empowerment of women is one of the best ways to enhance prosperity for generations to come. It is time to give the kind of support that women always provide for their families and communities. It starts with a realization of their abilities and contributions.
Natalie Gonnella Platts serves as the director of the Women Initiative and the author of “A Role Without a Rulebook” with the George Bush Institute.