We are celebrating International Women's Day at The Global Tiller this week by taking a look at how women empowerment leads to economic gains. If calls to human rights, justice and dignity have failed so far to convince everyone that women need to be treated equitably, let’s try making an economic case for it.
Economics 101 taught me that the way towards economic growth is reducing the number of dependants on the labour force. In a family of four, for example, a man will have three dependants - his wife and two children - if he’s the only one working. If the woman works too, then - mathematically speaking - the adults have one dependent each. The overall household income goes up, they spend more, the economy grows.
Countries understood this formula, especially during the Second World War when women in America, for example, entered the workforce in large numbers and in professions that were previously closed to them. Even when soldiers returned home after the war, many more women chose to stay in the workforce.
Turns out, just bringing women into the workforce wasn’t enough. They were confined to certain professions, mostly ones that didn’t pay too well, or were not paid the same salary as men doing the same job. As a result, we are living in a world where women comprise 49.6% of the global population yet they only occupy 29% of senior management roles.
You don’t have to imagine how much more growth can be achieved if we address these gaps. According to UN Women, increasing the female employment rates in OECD countries to match that of Sweden can boost their GDP by over $6 trillion, even if this growth does not necessarily reduce gender inequality. In fact, gender gaps cost the economy around 15% of the GDP.
A McKinsey study of 1,000 companies across 12 countries found that firms that had taken steps to improve gender equality were more profitable than national averages. Even among Fortune 500 companies, those with high levels of gender equality in management positions had 35% better return on equity than firms that hadn’t taken similar steps.
There is so much money in women empowerment that even Saudi Arabia is relaxing its restrictions on women’s mobility, allowing them to drive, taking public sector jobs and easing on its male guardianship system that requires women to obtain the consent of a male relative for major decisions.
The Covid-19 pandemic has pushed back on some of the gains made on women’s economic empowerment. A UN report in September 2020 showed that the pandemic will push 96 million people into extreme poverty by 2021, 47 million of whom are women and girls. This will bring the total number of women and girls living on $1.90 or less, to 435 million. Since the start of the pandemic, in Europe and Central Asia, 25% of self-employed women have lost their jobs, compared to 21% of men – a trend that is expected to continue as unemployment rises.
As we roll out vaccines and emerge from this crisis, let’s remember two very important lessons: having more women working is beneficial for all, and the pandemic pushed them further down the economic ladder than it did for men. How can our economic recovery plans make sure it understands these phenomena? How many women are sitting on the table where these decisions are being made and how many of them are raising their voices?
Three counties in Hawaiʻi are showing how this can be done by launching a feminist economic recovery plan which directs public spending and policies to women and families. They are giving money for caregiving and childcare, a significant portion of womenʻs work that goes unpaid. The government of Canada announced a $100-million 'Feminist Response and Recovery Fund' to support feminist projects.
If we have any chance of making an economic recovery after this pandemic, we should follow the advise of our Hawaiian friends: build bridges, not walk on backs.
Until next week, take care!
Until next week, take care!
Hira - Editor - The Global Tiller
…and now what?
Have you heard of the Pygmalion effect? It’s a psychological phenomenon where high expectations lead to improved performance in a given area. This is typically this: the more you tell a kid he can make it, the more he’ll find the resources to do it.
But way too often this is seen as a simple (if not, simplistic) approach: being a cheerleader for someone believing that this alone will work. Certainly compliments and acknowledgments are very important but, if they were enough, the world would be a better place already.
When it comes to gender equality and women’s rights today, we seem to be caught in this Pygmalion affect. Talk to anyone on the street and most of them will tell you they are in favour of equal rights for women. And many of them will insist that they are doing something for it at their level. But do they actually?
Some time ago, a friend of mine complained on social media how he was sick and tired of the word 'empowerment'. For him, this term is fuelling a binary vision between those in power and those without. The former sometimes agreeing to give a little power to “fix” the other.
When you look at the situation today, whether for women, other minorities or any other vulnerable group, it seems to me that we stick to this binary view: those in power share a bit of their power every now and then to prove they do good. So, we nominate a woman as the head of the inclusion department. Or we get one on the board as a token of some kind of CSR (which is just another way for companies to say: “oh look, we do a bit, send it to the PR people”) instead of digging into their hiring process, their work culture to make a meaningful and long-lasting change.
That’s what the Pygmalion effect should be. If you believe in someone, go the extra mile to prove your commitment to this person. Sharing how 'great' the work or the person is, 'liking' or 'acknowledging' things is no longer enough. It may have been a good start but it seems that we haven’t moved much since that. We are stuck on superficial attempts.
Because, let’s be honest, being on the side and cheering someone whose feet are chained isn’t helping anyone. Maybe, break those chains, or better, go change the rules of the game even if it’s a game you’re used to winning. Otherwise, you’re just amusing yourself by looking at how good people are at playing a game that’s rigged against them.
If we believe that change is needed then we should Pygmalion the shift out of it: give up on the old and take a leap of faith towards new systems instead of sticking to the old frames of a typical “household”, “housewife” or “family man”, and get ready for a new open road, even if it means changing our own perspective.
If you’re interested in changing perspectives and learning how to do it, you may be interested in one of my latest blog post on “the echo of ego”.
Philippe - Founder - Pacific Ventury