Women: The global economic engine

Recently, a series of reports, books and events are putting a spotlight on the enormous contribution women are making to their companies, communities and the global economy. Now it's time for companies to act ...

By Mary Meehan

Even though it’s widely acknowledged that women control the household debit
card, communities and marketers continue to take them for granted and miss the
opportunity to leverage this massive powerhouse. Recently, a series of reports,
books and events are putting a spotlight on the enormous contribution women
are making to their companies, communities and the global economy. Even if
you already have a women-centered strategy, marketers and policy makers need
to sharpen their focus and build a two-track model—one that puts women at the
core of their product development, messaging efforts, and policy strategies and
one that supports a local and global effort to move women into the mainstream.

Let’s first put this in perspective with a really big number. Women control $20
trillion in global annual consumer spending, and that figure could reach $28
trillion in the next five years according to the Boston Consulting Group from a
2009 report. It’s shocking that this highly desirable, motivated group still feels
underserved and undervalued.

Even though women still earn less than men and hold fewer top-level positions,
the gender gap is narrowing as women pursue education and (hopefully) land
the jobs that follow. The census data released recently estimates that roughly
20.1 million women have bachelor’s degrees compared to 18.7 million men. This
generation is going to have a very different experience than women of the 80s
and 90s. If they’re already making more of the household purchasing decisions,
think what will happen when they are spending the money they have earned,
wait longer to get married and wait longer to have children–all a consequence of

Globally, research shows that closing the equity gap can have enormous impact
on the economy. The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report
2010 study shows a distinct correlation between gender equality and the level
of competiveness and GDP per capita. The study goes on to state that even
developed economies can benefit—closing this gap would lift US GDP by as
much as 9%, euro zone by as much as 13% and Japan by as much as 16%.
The reality can be seen right here at home. Positively Minnesota, The
Department of Employment and Economic Development estimates that women-
owned small businesses will be responsible for one-third of new employment
by 2018, or 5 million jobs. In Minnesota, one in four businesses is owned by a
woman. State and local entities can’t afford to ignore this reality.

Closing the gender equity gap is going to be an ongoing factor for successful
economies in the future. The Third Billion is the term Booz & Co has given to
the hundreds of millions of women who will be entering the mainstream for the
first time over the next 10 to 20 years. As support and educational opportunities
increase, former barriers will give way to participation in the middle class
changing the economic status of categories, industries and entire regions.
The report states that this massive movement will be as significant as China and
India’s growth has been over the last decade.

Let’s stop for a minute (or two) to consider girls and their role in the larger
economic picture. Girls will, after all, grow up to be the women shopping in your
stores, buying your products and working at your companies. The Girl Effect is
one of the groups shining a light on the role of girls in our global culture—how
they have been overlooked and how small but important changes can have
enormous reach and a powerful impact.

U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton continues to give a powerful voice to
women and girls and her recent speech at APEC laid out the vital role women
play in reviving the economy. She said, “To achieve the economic expansion
we all seek—we need to unlock a vital source of growth that can power our
economies in the decades to come. That vital source of growth is women. With
economic models straining in every corner of the world, none of us can afford to
perpetuate the barriers facing women in the workforce. By increasing women’s
participation in the economy and enhancing their efficiency and productivity,
we can have a dramatic impact on the competitiveness and growth of our

There isn’t a better time to recognize the value of this half of the population
and the contributions they will make to the overall community, global and local
economy and your business.

- Improve research and consumer insights on products, services and the retail
and work experience for women
- Don’t assume you know who she is or what she wants
- Make motherhood a welcomed lifestage in the workforce
- Women are the original and remain champion social networkers
- Women are the guardians of the next generation (along with many fathers)
- Networked women quickly respond to information that protects their
- Transparency and social responsibility have been talked to death, but still
- Improve recruitment—Women are loyal and hardworking employees
- Women with income spend money on children, home and education
improving the economy with each generation
- Improve access to credit and watch women build businesses, make a living,
and buy your products
- Women with access to education and participation in government create a more
robust and successful society and culture

Mary Meehan is co-founder of the consumer trends consultancy Panoramix Global (panoramixglobal.com) with colleague Vickie Abrahamson. They previously founded Minneapolis company Iconoculture and were honored with the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal’s Women in Business/ Changemakers Award.

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