International Women’s Day: The Power of Improving Women’s Standing

networking groupsBy Tina Vasquez

Each year on March 8, the world celebrates International Women’s Day (IWD), a time to reflect on progress that’s been made and also, shine a bigger spotlight on the battles women continue to face, including poverty and access to education. In honor of IWD, Catalyst released a powerful new report that gathers information from around the world, exploring women’s status through the lens of three global concepts: shifting demographics, improving education, and stalled progress toward equality for women.

The Ripple Effect
Emily Troiano, author of Catalyst’s Women in the World report and Senior Director of the organization’s Information Center, says that that the idea behind the report was to synthesize a great deal of research in hopes of providing answers to big, complex questions about the current state of affairs for women.

“What all of this research really says is that when women’s standing is advanced, there is this outstanding ripple effect that benefits many,” Troiano said.

In essence, empowering women improves not only the lives of women, but the lives of children, families, and societies, resulting in increased economic prosperity everywhere. Big change doesn’t happen quickly, Troiano says, but things are shifting.

If nothing else, the real takeaway from the report is the understanding of what could be if more of an effort was made to champion the success of women. For example, the report found that fuller employment of women across the globe could result in significant improvement and growth in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of many countries. Specifically, increasing the levels of female employment could help raise the GDP by 5 percent in the United States, 9 percent in Brazil, 9 percent in Japan, 11 percent in Italy, 12 percent in the United Arab Emirates, and a whopping 27 percent in India.

These numbers are particularly telling in light of findings that the pool of employable talent is shrinking as the global population ages, which will prove to be a serious drain on many economies. According to Women in the World, women are a solution. By implementing policies and creating environments “to take advantage of an underutilized and competent labor pool”, meaning women, companies and governments have the power to change the economic equation for the better.

Enormous Advances in Education
Women in the World also sheds light on education, reporting that women have made enormous advances in education worldwide. Catalyst reports that overall, secondary education for girls leads to wage boosts of 15 – 25 percent. It also reveals that increasing the share of girls in secondary education by just one percentage point will boost a country’s annual per capita income growth by 0.3 percentage points.

Globally, women represented 51 percent of those enrolled in tertiary education in 2007, a 5 percent increase from 1990. Defined as academic, advanced vocational, and professional education, the average global participation of women in tertiary education is 27 percent, surpassing men’s 25 percent.

“What’s clear is that investing in the education of girls and women leads to tremendous economic gain,” Troiano said. “If we give a little, we get a lot – and the value is almost immediately apparent.”

STEM’s Visibility Problem
Sadly, women still have limited opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. Troiano says this speaks more to visibility than it does the long-held assumption that women aren’t geared toward these fields.

“When girls excel in science, they’re not expected to enter STEM fields so they’re not encouraged. There is definitely a lack of role modeling,” the study’s author said. “If they can’t see themselves in STEM or see themselves reflected in the field, then it stops being an option. What’s frustrating is that women are in some STEM fields, but there’s this assumption that they’re not. In the U.S., more than 50% of biologists are women.”

Give a Little, Get a Lot
The “give a little, get a lot” approach mentioned by Troiano earlier rings true in countries that passed laws and policies around employment, minimum schooling, and access to credit for women. Not only did these countries have smaller pay gaps, but they also had more women doing paid work and more women in senior roles.

On this International Women’s Day, we need to continue pushing for the economic empowerment of women and helping others to understand the power of its many ripple effects.

“This report is full of a lot of information and a lot of statistics, but what I hope doesn’t get lost is what we’re really talking about, which is people,” Troiano said. “We can use this information to impact real change for people across the globe – and we should want that not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because it will change the prosperity of the economy.”