By Carolyn Buck Luce
Last week, I had the honor of being the MC for the event at the United Nations to celebrate International Women’s Day. Presented by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation and the UN Office for Partnerships, “Turning Inspiration into Action: Next Steps for the Private Sector to Empower Women Globally” convened a cross-section of social empowerment heavy hitters, including Chelsea Clinton, Ambassador Melanie Verveer, and representatives from some of America’s biggest companies who make it their business to help women succeed.
Why should the private sector care? And why the UN? Today we are facing a new Emerging Market that will dwarf the size of both the population and GDPs of China and India. What is the Emerging Market that will redefine society and the world? Women. And there is a powerful business case for developing sustainable women’s economic empowerment programs, not just in the United States but also around the world.
In the next decade it is estimated that close to 1 billion women, mostly in the developing world, are going to enter the formal economy and become new economic contributors, as full-time workers and micro-entrepreneurs. The growing pace of urban migration, access to education, better health, mobile technologies and micro credit will continue to fuel this phenomenon.
This tidal wave of talent and new purchasing power joins the growing dominance of women in the developed world.
• In the U.S. and Europe, women account for the majority of college students, and this is trending towards 60 percent.
• Working women in the United States generate $4.3 trillion in earned income annually and now represent 50 percent of all workers in this country.
• Women contributed nearly 100 percent of the change in family income in the past decade in the U.S.
• They represent the fastest cohort of wealth accumulators — owning 75 percent of the nation’s wealth in the U.S. — and are estimated to inherit anywhere from $12-$40 trillion over the next 20 years.
• If women were working at the same rate men were global GDP would take off — for example, in Egypt, GDP could grow by 34 percent, 12 percent in the United Arab Emirates, in Japan by 9 percent, and in the United States by 5 percent.
• Globally women make 65 percent+ of all purchasing decisions, including cars, houses and health
In other words, the economy is turning into the “SHEconomy.”
At a time when country boundaries are hardening, creating challenges for multilateral and civil society organizations to fulfill their missions, there is good news. The private sector is growing in consciousness as it goes global in a shrinking world. The demographic, social, geopolitical, technology and economic realities are coming together to paint a vivid picture in the C-Suites — and executives are realizing that women are the greatest untapped and abundant natural resources left on the planet. And courageous private sector leaders understand that we are reaching a tipping point where companies will need to take a longer-term view and embrace the possibility that the private sector could be a unique engine of transformation for the world.
At the Center for Talent Innovation (CTI), www.talentinnovation.org the New York think-tank where I serve as Executive-in-Residence and co-founder, women’s empowerment has been one of our core themes since the Center was founded ten years ago, and it remains central as we move into our next decade of amplifying the conversation on under-leveraged streams of talent around the world.
In fact, we are calling 2014 “The Year of the Woman” at CTI: We kicked off the year by launching “Athena Factor 2.0: Accelerating Female Talent in Science, Engineering and Technology.” We’re also producing in-depth, data-driven reports on “The Power of the Purse: The Implications of the SHEconomy for Health and Wealth” which examines the ways companies can leverage their business and talent models to capitalize on these demographic mega-trends. A subject near to my heart, we will also be launching “Women and Power,” which will illuminate how women differ from men in how they define power, what they want from it, how they “wear” it, and how their relationship with power and ambition contributes to their “stalling” at the threshold to executive positions.
In a panel discussion which I moderated at the UN event, four of our sponsors of these studies — Tupperware Brands, UBS Financial Services, Cardinal Health, and Grey Healthcare Group — had a thought-provoking conversation on the “SHEconomy” and the power of the female consumer in a growing middle class to effect change in all different sectors of the economy.
It’s a conversation that will spread to every corner office, cubicle and kitchen where a talented women is making decisions about how to invest her money, pay for her — and her family’s — healthcare, and progress in her career. I hope you’ll join in. I’d love to hear your comments.