Women and the New Economic Revolution

The following is adapted from Why Women Mean Business (Jossey-Bass, 2008).

There has never before been such a confluence of international attention given to the economic importance of women and the need to enable them to fulfill their potential. The position of women - in companies, countries and governments - is seen as a measure of health, maturity and economic viability.

The World Economic Forum, organizer of the influential Davos conference, created a Global Gender Gap Report in 2005, ranking 115 countries on how they score for women's education, health, and participation in the economy and the political process. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has declared that 'gender equality strengthens long-term economic development'. In 2007, it set up a gender website to focus on 'the implications of [gender] inequalities for economic development and what can be done to develop policies for parity'. In a similar vein, the World Bank launched a Gender Action Plan in 2007.

Goldman Sachs, the leading investment bank, is one of those now using the term 'womenomics' to sum up the force that women represent as guarantors of growth. It points to the huge implications that closing the gap between male and female employment rates would have for the global economy, giving a powerful boost to GDP in Europe, the US and Japan ...

Reducing gender inequality further could play a key role in addressing the twin problems of population ageing and pension sustainability. Crucially, Goldman notes, female employment and fertility both tend to be higher in countries where it is relatively easy for women to work and have children.

Governments are looking anxiously for solutions to the persistent undervaluing of women's skills. Vladimír _pidla, the European Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities, points out that women have filled 6 million of the 8 million jobs created in the European Union since 2000, and that 59 percent of university graduates are female. 'Women are driving job growth in Europe and helping us reach our economic targets,' he says. 'But they still face too many barriers to realizing their full potential.'...

Why Women Mean Business takes these powerful economic arguments for change to the heart of the corporate world. We analyze the opportunities open to companies that really understand what motivates women in the workplace and the marketplace. We explain the impact of national cultures on women's participation in the labor force and examine why many of the current approaches to gender have not worked and why we need a new perspective: one that sees women not as a problem but as a solution - and that treats them not as a mythical minority but as full partners in leadership. With the new perspective, we offer companies and managers a step-by-step guide on how to integrate women successfully into their growth strategies.

For most of the last century, the issue of women was promoted mostly by women. More generally, women's debate on gender has largely been a conversation among women ... From the lightning rod of Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique or Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex to the more recent "women are better" books like Sally Helgesen's The Female Advantage and Helen Fisher's The First Sex, it has been an important and empowering discussion.

Very little, however, has been written about the economic and political influence of women for an audience that includes the men currently in power. Women's growing purchasing power has recently been described through the angle of "women as consumers" in a flurry of books that incite companies to target this lucrative market better. But there is more to women than their - albeit swelling - bank accounts.

This book offers the bigger picture on gender. It does not take the view that women are better than men. This "them versus us" approach is as much cannon fodder for continuing gender wars as it is for religious and political ones.

The time has come for fresh thinking, less attached to "glass ceilings" and "opposite-sex-as-opponent" starting points. Women, and the professional issues they raise, are related to many other impending changes in the way we work. "Figuring out" females will help organizations understand and respond to these developments - from the evolving expectations and roles of men, to the flexibility and adaptations needed by an aging workforce and demanded by the generation now entering the workforce. Countries and companies that are women-friendly will be better placed to benefit from these demographic and social trends.

Our aim is a new kind of "bilingual" leadership, one that maximizes the abilities and potential of both men and women by recognizing the competitive advantages of our complementary skills and natures.

We propose a reframing of the gender debate, taking it out of the various boxes into which it has been awkwardly pushed for the past decades - whether as a "women's issue", a dimension of diversity, or an equal opportunity argument. All of these categorizations underestimate both the impact of women on the world, and the opportunity in better harnessing their potential.

Women are one of three emerging forces shaping the 21st century, along with global warming and the internet. We call them the three Ws:

  • Weather - the mass acceptance of the need for environmental sustainability that is changing the way we think about the Earth and our relation to it.
  • Women - the massive contribution women can make to future economic growth and leadership.
  • Web - the extraordinary transformation of the way we live, work and communicate through new technology.

These are three huge and irreversible movements that came into view in the 20th century, but will reach their full impact in coming decades. The first presents a terrible challenge, but also an opportunity to build a more sustainable future for our planet. The other two offer enormous opportunities, first and foremost, but also present risks if we misuse them or underestimate their significance.

Progressive forces are often inter-linked. These are some of our century's greatest developments. Let us weigh them well, and address them together.

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