In honor of International Women’s Day (IWD), today I’m writing at the nexus of my two favorite themes: women and sustainability. This holiday, held on March 8th, has been recognized around the world since the early 1900’s. In its very first year of observance, more than one million women and men attended IWD rallies for women’s rights to work, vote, hold public office and end discrimination. The importance of this day has endured for more than a century.
Yet I can’t help but wonder: why do we need an international day to recognize women? The simplest version of my answer? No society can truly flourish if it stifles the dreams and productivity of half its population.
Happily, all over the world women are gaining new social and economic powers. Yes, this is good news for women, but it’s even better news for societies. Why? Because it’s proven that women tend to reinvest financial gains back into their families and communities. CARE and Women’s Empowerment initiatives go so far as to say that investing in women is a key strategy toward strengthening economies. You find further evidence in the five year action agenda of the Secretary General of the United Nations which focuses on empowering women.
Goldman Sachs, McKinsey, Forbes, Credit Suisse and others also make the case for investing in women… and the facts are staggering. According to Goldman Sachs’ study on “Womenomics:”
- Every $1 invested in women has a 30x return.
- The earning power of women globally is expected to reach $19 trillion by 2014, two times the estimated 2014 GDP of China and India combined.
- Women control $20 trillion in annual consumer spending today, forecasted to reach $29 trillion by 2014.
- Women are the largest growing spending bloc on the planet.
- Companies with the most women in leadership financially outperform those with the fewest: they enjoy a 35% higher return on investment and 34% greater total return to shareholders.
The statistics go on and on. A staggering number of companies have developed women’s initiatives, from Coca-Cola’s (5×20) to Intel’s Girl Rising to Nike’s support of the girl effect, not to mention Walmart, Avon and so many others.
The overwhelming correlation between the development of women and economic gain leads to my second question: is there a connection between women and sustainability? Intuitively, I believe so; Kellie McElhaney, University of California Haas School of Business professor knows so. Thankfully, Dr. McElhaney presented the findings of her recent report, “Women Create a Sustainable Future” at the Women’s Network for a Sustainable Future’s Annual Summit on February 22nd in New York. According to her, “Companies that explicitly place value on gender diversity (and put women on Boards) perform better in general, and perform better than their peers on the multiple dimensions of corporate sustainability.”
McElhaney reframes the reason for developing women by saying, “This is not a women’s or men’s issue, it’s a collective and business opportunity.” Executive Chair and Co-Founder of Audur Capital Halla Tomasdottir adds, “Women and sustainability are two sides of the same coin. Corporations build better societies if they have balanced boards.” Simply put, women make companies and the world more economically, socially and environmentally sustainable.
This brings me full circle back to International Women’s Day. Join me in celebrating the major leaps forward women have made over the past hundred years. And celebrate our collective future, as it is not just a future that will be equally shaped by the minds, hearts and hands of women around the world; it’s good for sustainable economic development.
“Women represent the single biggest opportunity of this century.” – Hillary Clinton