Most of us will spend more time at work than at any other place. At work, ideally, we develop our capacity to think, to create, to provide and to care for others. This is a different way of looking at work, which is normally seen from the perspective only of turnover, profits and productivity. In its true sense, a place of work can and should contribute to the advancement of civilization. But, when half of the world’s population controls only 1% of its wealth and 10% of the population controls 85% of the wealth, it is clear that work cannot yield productive results for families, communities, and societies.
Sadly, for the majority of both men and women, work doesn’t contribute to their happiness. In fact, a survey conducted in the United States (in the 1980s) showed that over 70% of people actively disliked their jobs! Further, the current economy does not yield viable subsistence for the majority of people, nor is productive and meaningful work reliably available to large segments of humanity. The world of work is flawed – this is already obvious from the economic problems we are experiencing worldwide. It is clear that something needs to change.
New economic thinking
The way we arrange our economy expresses what we value and is intimately related to advancing the equality of women and men. With this in mind, we can ask ourselves what kind of economic productivity emerges from competition and conflict (often more masculine qualities), and what comes from cooperation and reciprocity (traditionally the more feminine qualities). Clearly, we need both – without the feminine, business can become cut-throat and competitive, which often isn’t sustainable. Without the masculine, decisiveness and drive are sometimes lacking. This has been proved over and over again by surveys conducted around the world in many different societies – we need both the masculine and feminine attributes in business – and the results are startling.
More women in your company means better performance!
According to an article in the Washington Post, Weekly Edition, 2009, companies that employ more women in upper level management are more profitable than those that rely heavily on male talent to run their businesses. This exciting (but not surprising) news is not limited to the United States, but is true throughout the world. And it’s not only one study that verifies this. There are now over 50 different bodies of research from a broad spectrum of organizations such as Columbia University, McKinsey & Co., Credit Suisse, Goldman Sachs and Pepperdine University, that document a clear relationship between women in senior management and corporate financial success. By all measures, more women in your company mean better performance.
Looking at what has happened in Latin America over the past ten years is also fascinating. The men were particularly hard hit by the global recession (which applies to men throughout the world) so it was the women who picked up the slack and found ways to earn money. Poverty and inequality have been falling in Latin America over the past decade. There are many factors that have contributed to this – high global commodity prices have helped, there has been substantial foreign investment and a growing middle class that has increased consumption. However, a major factor has been these millions of Latin American women who have entered the workforce. According to an August 2012 World Bank report, Latin American women have been responsible for 30 percent of the region’s extreme poverty reduction over the past decade, as a result of their increased workforce participation and higher earnings. Women’s income has had an even greater effect on the lowest rungs of the socio-economic ladder, reducing the severity of poverty more than twice as effectively as men’s earnings.
How has this helped to advance equality?
In many cases, this knowledge hasn’t helped to advance women at all. Women continue to be employed disproportionately in leadership positions. Men not only continue to far outnumber women in corporate leadership positions across industries, they are also often paid significantly more than women for the same labour. Even when Latin American women make it to the top of their field, 61% report some form of discrimination at work.
And, exactly as has been proved in other parts of the world, having more Latin American women in the workplace isn’t just an issue of equity – it’s also good for business. An August 2012 Credit Suisse report found that when companies have one woman or more on their boards, they perform significantly better than companies that don’t (yet 60% of Latin American companies’ boards do not have a single female member). And how much better do these more diverse companies do? Stocks and shares of large companies (globally) that had women on their boards performed 26 percent better than those that didn’t.
The evidence is so overwhelming that there is no longer any economic or social reason why companies shouldn’t actively seek out women to participate in their companies at the highest levels. South Africa may actually lead the way in this regard. According to the new draft Women Empowerment and Gender Equality Bill, companies need to aim to have 50% of their management positions occupied by women. While countries around the world are introducing similar quotas (the EU may introduce legislation for the entire region), only Israel and South Africa are aiming as high as 50%. If a tremendous effort is made in this regard, and if we follow worldwide trends, this should result in greater financial success for companies and increased poverty reduction throughout the country. In short, the numbers make the opportunities clear: women in the workforce, and especially women in leadership positions, are good for all countries in the world – for their families, for their businesses, and for their futures.