Governments like to radiate the sense of doing everything they can to promote economic growth. But when it comes to one major opportunity, too often they are lacking. Empowering women has provable economic–never mind moral–benefits. Yet, the policies of countries the world over often don’t reflect that.

report from Booz & Company shows that employing women in equal numbers to men could raise the United States’ GDP by 5%, Japan’s by 9%, the United Arab Emirates’ by 12%, and Egypt’s by a jaw-dropping 34%. “Even small increases in the opportunities available to women, and some release of the cultural and political constraints that hold them back, can lead to dramatic economic and social benefits,” it says.

Play with an interactive version of this chart at Harvard Business Review.

The study ranks nations by both the policies they pursue (including education, discrimination laws, and entrepreneurial support) and the reality (male/female ratios of pay and participation). And the results vary widely. As you see from the chart, countries like Yemen and Pakistan hold back their women, and reap the results: women fare poorly economically speaking. At the other end of the spectrum, women in Australia and Norway are “on the path to success,” as Booz puts it. In the middle are countries like Colombia, Serbia, and Thailand, which are “average.”

The good news for policy-makers is that policies do seem to work:

The data shows a very strong correlation between index scores and beneficial outcomes. Such a relationship indicates that positive steps intended to economically empower women not only contribute to the immediate goals of mobilizing the female workforce, but also lead to broader gainsfor all citizens in such areas as economic prosperity, health, early childhood development, security, and freedom.

Booz’s report notes that women’s role as care-givers is often an impediment to participation. In developed countries, they spend 2.4 hours more in those roles than men do. It recommends greater access to childcare and maternity leave, as well as greater equality in areas like inheritance, property law, and education.

Spare a thought, finally, for the women of Saudi Arabia, classified by Booz as “at the starting gate” (the lowest ranking). Though more than half of women graduate from college, only 12% participate in the job market. In their case, greater equality may take more than mere “policy changes.”


Want to boost the economy? Get more women in the workforce!
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