February 13, 2012
Posted by Joan V. Gallos
For those who don’t follow my tweets ( http://twitter.com/#!/JoanGallos ), this is exciting enough for a full write-up so please read on. [Check me out on Twitter if you want links to the articles reporting the story.]
The world of business and commerce has finally learned what women and micro-finance enterprises (like my personal favorite, the U.S.-based microloan agency called FINCA) have long known: invest in women. Women are reliable (and they repay their loans). They share the fruits of their economic success with their families and communities. Their success drives down illiteracy and mortality rates and supports the education of their children. And, as folks at the Economic Summit in Davos this month reminded us, their nation’s GDP goes up when women’s economic well-being does. Economies that engage women develop more quickly and out-perform those that don’t.
Investing in women is a win-win-win – and these understandings is moving into the boardroom in big ways for what Newsweek recently called “a corporate revolution.” And I quote:
“Now a corporate revolution is at hand, one that is moving beyond philanthropy, making women partners in business at all levels. . . . On Feb. 1, some of the most powerful companies in the United States (Accenture, Coca-Cola, Ernst and Young, Goldman Sachs, and others) are signing on to a worldwide campaign to bring women into the economic mainstream. The Third Billion Campaign is being launched by La Pietra Coalition – an alliance including corporations, governments, and nonprofits – to enable 1 billion women to become members of the global economy by 2025. The campaign title comes from the notion that over the next decade, the impact of women will be at least as significant as that of China’s and India’s respective 1-billion-plus populations.” (Newsweek, February 6, 2012, p. 12)
Some companies are ahead-of-the-curve on all this. Unilever has had a bottom-of-the-pyramid strategy for years that includes women. It has, for example, invested in 45,000 poor Indian women in 100,000 villages with micro-financing and training supports. In fact, 5% of its current profits in India flow from these efforts. Or Avon has 6 million women in 100 countries running their own small business – the life blood of the corporation. Companies like this demonstrate that bringing women into the economy translates into all the benefits to the women and their communities and families mentioned above – but also increased profits, new markets, better product education for new consumers, and product improvements for the company. It’s smart business to support women entrepreneurs at the grassroots level. Others have now pledged to take up the charge.
And the Three Billion Campaign doesn’t stop with poor women in developing nations. Data is there to suggest it’s time for companies to address the lack of women in senior leadership and on boards. A recent survey by the New York-based think tank on women and careers Catalyst, for example, found a significant and strong correlation between gender diversity in a company’s leadership ranks and that company’s bottom-line. More women, better results.
Reading this brought great pleasure. It also took me back to a recent experience, serving on a women in leadership panel with Gloria Steinem. In preparation, I went back and reread some of Steinem’s earlier works (which were so revolutionary at their publication almost half a century ago). I thought about a world where simple consciousness raising seemed shocking to one where some of the largest and most powerful corporations and agencies are pledging significant support — $20 billion, for example, by Walmart – so that 1 billion women will reach their economic potential.
We have come a long way – and by 2025, will be a giant step closer to a fair and equitable world for men and for women. Nice! Very nice!