Women make up half the world’s population and no country should allow half its human capital to be under-utilized. Recently I attended the APEC Women and the Economy Summit in San Francisco, organized by US Secretary Hillary Clinton.
It was actually the first time in APEC’s 22 year history of a meeting which brings together stakeholders (government, business, thought leaders, media) dealing with economic and gender or women issues.
It’s about time. The APEC Bogor Goals of free trade and investment in the region by 2010/2020 will not be achieved without women – half of the region’s human capital.
What are the major take aways from this meeting? First women are undervalued and underestimated (we all knew that of course!).
Despite the improvements in opportunities for women as evidenced by increased school enrollment, literacy rates, college graduates and
labor participation, women still get lower returns for the same job or activity than men.
Women owned businesses tend to be smaller and have a harder time getting access to finance. There is only asmall percentage of women in top management and leadership position.
For instance only two out of the 21 heads of state in the APEC economies are women or 10 percent compared to the world average of 30 out of 195 (15 percent). Only two out of the 21 economic ministers (Russia and Indonesia) and 2 out of 21 foreign ministers (USA and Mexico) are women.
Indonesia is doing better of course with four out of the 33 cabinet ministers being women (12 percent).
In terms of political leadership, the representation of women in national parliaments increased from 11 percent in 1995 to 18.4 percent in 2009 – still lower than the 30 percent target set in 1995 at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing.
In Indonesia we have achieved similar progress with representation increasing from 11.8% to 18% between 2004-09.
In the corporate world, a McKinsey Study of the Fortune 500 companies shows a funnel outcome. The percentage of women is as follows: entry level professional 53%, middle management 37%, VP and Senior Management 26%, Executive committee, 14%, and CEO only 3%! The percentage of women on corporate boards is 15 percent for the US and the highest was Norway at 39%
and that is because there is a regulation in Norway for listed companies to have 50 percent of women on their boards.
In Indonesia the number is 4%! Second something needs to be done. And it is not just in the interest of equality and fairness, but because it makes economic and business-sense.
Women are half of the human capital, so increasing participation of women will mean increasing growth, equity and reducing poverty. Furthermore the largest economy in the world – and it would be a badly managed corporation that does not realize this – is the $12 trillion consumption spending by women globally.
This is two thirds of total consumption spending and is expected to increase by another $5 Trillion in the next five years. Another McKinsey finding is that boards with women do better profit wise, have higher rates of return, and lower turnover of management.
Third let’s be clear what needs to be done. We need to work at removing the various obstacles and take facilitation measures to ensure the value of
women is realized fully. Here are some important thoughts and ideas that emerged.
We agreed that there should be equal opportunity, but most agreed that affirmative action or quotas should only be used selectively. We want to be where we are based on merit and because we deserved to be in that position. No one wants to be the token woman. So the idea is to have voluntary or pro active targets, combined with real action to remove the obstacles and facilitate woman to reach those targets.
Our President is a good example. He had set targets for instance to have 4 women in the cabinet in 2004 and in 2009 agreed that he would have more women in the cabinet (we originally had 5).
In a similar vein, the first woman President of Chile also set the target of having half of the cabinet be comprised of women.
Here are some of the obstacles to remove. Women do not often get to the top leadership position because they have more challenges in balancing work, family and lifestyle issues, let alone cultural norms.
There has to be a mindset change to better structure work place and benefits to cater for women’s professional and family demands. Technology can help a lot to allow for working from home and teleconferencing, as well as adequate child care facilities and flexibilities without sacrificing quality or performance. Interestingly, women in emerging economies were more ambitious in general than women in developed economies precisely because we are able to have extended family and help with balancing family, lifestyle and work.
There also has to be equal opportunity in the whole cycle of the life of a woman. Starting with equal access to health care and nutrition in the first five years of life; equal access to education from primary, secondary and girls; and equal opportunity, pay and benefits in the work force. There also has to be a change in attitude and perceptions so that girls do the best they can. A girl should not be branded negative if she is “ambitious’ and let us debunk the myth that boys are better than girls at math, science, technology and engineering.
Finally we have to ensure the legal and policy issues are not creating a negative bias against women whether its their legal and property rights, access to financing and their rights in general.
In terms of facilitation and nurturing the path forward for women there was widespread agreement of the importance of role modeling, mentoring and skills and capacity building. Providing women with courage and confidence, to face risks, and opportunities for professional growth as well as leadership skills, were all thought to be important.
Technology can also provide an important tool for women. With the accessibility and affordability of communications, internet and social media can contribute to social change for women – whether it is to get information and knowledge, or to use it as a tool to do business.
The numbers show that women spend more time on line than men (24.8 hours compared with 22.9 for men), spend 20 percent more time on retail websites than men, and more women use social media websites than men and spend more time on them.
The social media provides women with comparative advantage because it does not use physical strength. So women can excel in the services sector, including the use of social media because of network building, socializing and communication.
So girls, in closing lets take heart from Beyonce’s song — Run the World Girls, and the refrain Who Won the World, Girls.