7 Ways Women Could Change the World ... If We Let Them

As people around the world recognize International Women’s Day, few would claim that women have achieved true parity. There’s still a long way to go before women see anything near equity, even as countries have made slow but steady progress on closing the gender gap in education, economics, health, and politics.

But the facts are there: If we can help women get on equal footing with men, they will help us all, globally, to succeed. Here are just some of the ways women could change the world, if we let them:

If they had equal employment, women could raise every country’s GDP.

If women’s participation in the workforce increased, it would transform the global economy for the better. One study projects that if the female employment in the U.S. matched the male rates, our overall GDP would rise by 5 percent. In Japan, the GDP would jump by 9 percent. Addressing the education gap would be a good way to start to achieve these figures. The Council on Foreign Relations estimates that each country’s GDP grows by 3 percent for every additional 10 percent of girls going to school.

If companies put women in leadership positions, they’d both benefit.

A persistent global gap in economic participation and opportunity means that not enough women are making it into the workforce — and even when they are, they’renot ascending to top positions. In fact, 36 percent of U.S. companies currently don’t have a single woman on their boards of directors. A study of our neighbors to the north found that Canadian women hold only 5.7 percent of CEO positions at top companies there. In Latin America, there are a total of only nine female CEOs in the top 500 companies. But evidence suggests that gender-mixed leadership actually translates into better profits. According to one study that compared similarly-sized businesses, those with women on their boards outperformed those with all-male boards by 26 percent.

If women were more politically involved, we’d have better policies for our poor.

When women aren’t outnumbered by men, they tend to speak up more for the needs of the vulnerable and advocate for the social safety net. In one experiment that asked groups to set the threshold for public assistance, the groups with fewer women decided on a minimum income of about $21,600 per year for a family of four — close to the United States’ current federal poverty level — but in the groups where women made up 60 to 80 percent of the members, women elevated the safety net to as much as $31,000. In female-dominated groups, women spoke up as much as men, encountered less hostility from their peers, and ultimately influenced their male counterparts to make more generous economic policy choices.

If women were paid more, families would thrive.

The average pay disparity between a man and a woman in the United States is .77 cents on the dollar. That means an American woman could feed a family of four for 37 years with the earnings she loses thanks to pay disparity. If that sounds bad, compare it to the pay gap in Korea, the largest in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. There, women’s paychecks were 39 percent lower than their male peers. Women are increasingly becoming the primary or co-breadwinners for their families, and as they do their pay becomes more vital to the wellbeing of their families. It’s important for the nation, too; economists believe that closing the gender pay gap would be the equivalent of “huge” economic stimulus, and that, in the United States alone, it could grow the economy by three or four percentage points.

If more women held political office, they’d advance more pro-women policies.

Women are underrepresented in political offices around the world, making up about 20 percent of lawmakers here in the U.S. and abroad. Advances in women’s political representation are inching forward (PDF), but research suggests it won’t be enough to shape policy until there are actually equal numbers of male and female lawmakers in office. When women actually achieve parity in group situations, they accurately represent the interests of women and influence their male colleagues to agree with them — but when they hold a small minority, they don’t. Studies have found thatenforcing gender quotas, either legislatively enforced or voluntary, has been by far the most successful way of getting women into politics. Without quotas, voters have on average elected only 12 percent women.

If women had more STEM training, they could change the tech market.

Countries all need larger work forces skilled in STEM fields, like computer science and engineering, to remain competitive in the global economy. Women could help tap into the half a trillion dollar global technology market, but only if countries around the world continue to work toward closing their persistent education gaps. Across the globe, women are making strides in the legal and medical fields, but STEM lags behind— a 2009 study of 121 countries found that women held only 29 percent of STEM researcher jobs. Here in the U.S., women are so far behind in STEM that the Obama administration has made it one of their priorities to encourage women to pursue science and technology careers.

If more women held political power, there might be less government corruption.

A growing body of research has correlated a greater number of female elected officials with less corruption of power. Of course, it’s not a simplistic connection — women aren’t necessarily inherently less likely to accept bribes, for example, and women do tend to be elected in open, democratic societies where there’s already less tolerance for corruption. But some studies suggest there may be a positive effect when female leaders break up the “old boy’s club.” It may partly be because women have been participating in politics for less time, so they’re not yet accustomed to engaging in the risky political bargaining that corrupt male leaders practice.

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