Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Why women will impact global economy as much as China

By Beth Brooke, Special to CNN
October 25, 2012 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Barnard College students meet with potential employers at a career fair in September 2012. Over the next decade, women's impact on the global economy is expected to be as significant as that of China or India.
Barnard College students meet with potential employers at a career fair in September 2012. Over the next decade, women's impact on the global economy is expected to be as significant as that of China or India.
  • In Europe this week, issues around women's advancement and empowerment high on the agenda
  • Over next decade, women's impact on global economy expected to be as significant as China or India
  • Research shows improved gender balance in top positions contributes to better business performance
  • GDP growth of over 5% possible for countries which increase female employment rates to the level of men

Editor's note: Beth A. Brooke is Global Vice Chair of Public Policy at Ernst & Young. She has taken leading roles in a wide variety of women's civic and business organizations and was recently asked to serve on the International Council on Women's Business Leadership by U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. She has made the Forbes "World's 100 Most Powerful Women" list four times and was Concern Worldwide's Woman of the Year in 2009.

(CNN) -- Organizations today would never think of not investing in high growth markets like China and India. Yet they are still dragging their heels when it comes to investing in women, despite it being a win-win situation for the global economy, organizations and women themselves. This is not just a human rights issue -- it makes absolute business sense. Research conducted throughout the world shows gender balance in top positions contributes to improved competitiveness and better business performance.

Beth Brooke, Global Vice Chair of Public Policy, Ernst & Young
Beth Brooke, Global Vice Chair of Public Policy, Ernst & Young

In Europe this week, issues around women's advancement and empowerment have been high on the agenda. The European Parliament's economic affairs committee voted down the nomination of Luxembourg's Yves Mersch to the European Central Bank board, calling for his candidacy to be withdrawn. It was a protest over the lack of women in top EU posts. Also, the EU's Justice Commissioner, Viviane Reding, who is intent to impose an EU-wide quota for women on supervisory boards, looks likely to have to go with a watered down proposal to be presented mid-November. Debate on these issues is important precisely because it puts the issue of gender inequality on the table. It draws attention to the danger of having so few women at the top and encourages focus on the improved business benefits of engaging women, for individual organizations and the economy as a whole.

What is clear is that business leaders must commit to champion change
Beth Brooke

But business leaders cannot afford to be complacent and must demonstrate real progress. That's why I set up the CEO Champions initiative with our CEO, Jim Turley, and the Women's Forum for the Economy and Society. Change needs to be driven from the top of organizations, and peer groups like CEO Champions are so important because they are designed to create and gradually expand a group of leaders to act as champions of women's empowerment, helping to achieve what I like to call "visibility with teeth." What makes our peer group unique is our ability to take a strong leadership role in the broader global business community and form powerful coalitions. Looking ahead, we have much to learn from other successful initiatives like the 30% Club in the UK and Male Champions of Change in Australia. It is only through engaging with other groups and establishing greater visibility for CEO Champions that we can drive real change.

Mentoring tomorrow's leading women
Finance boss: Banking needs more women

What is clear is that business leaders must commit to champion change -- to be transparent about their goals for change, to align their incentives systems to drive the change, and to make sure their work environments are flexible in a way that allows men and women who choose to work to be able to achieve all of their potential. If they don't champion that change, they will be doing so at their own peril and quotas will be a public policy hammer of last resort.

Over the next decade, the impact of women on the global economy -- as producers, entrepreneurs, employees and consumers -- will be at least as significant as that of China's or India's one-billion-plus populations, if not greater. If women's economic potential can be successfully harnessed and leveraged, it would be the equivalent of having an additional one billion individuals in business and in the workforce contributing to the global economy. It's for this reason that Ernst & Young has been involved in the Third Billion global campaign, which unites governments, NGOs, corporations, youth and others to partner toward ensuring women's access to legal protection, education and training, finance and markets.

There really is no longer any excuse to not be investing in one of the largest untapped economic engines
Beth Brooke

Just recently, Booz & Company published new data outlining compelling evidence that women can be powerful drivers of economic growth. Their estimates show that if female employment rates were to match male rates, overall GDP would grow significantly in the U.S. by 5%, in Japan by 9%, and in developing countries like Egypt by a massive 34%. The World Economic Forum also published their annual Global Gender Gap report -- the data suggests a strong correlation between those countries that are most successful at closing the gender gap and those that are the most economically competitive.

Some companies are already investing in women and thereby betting on a brighter future -- for a workforce just waiting to blossom, for emerging economies whose development depends on this new talent, and, of course, for their own financial growth. In the current economic climate there really is no longer any excuse to not be investing in one of the largest untapped economic engines. You cannot flick a switch overnight but the private sector has a tremendous opportunity and responsibility to lead on these issues.

Part of complete coverage on
July 15, 2014 -- Updated 2041 GMT (0441 HKT)
When Bobbi Brown set out to create her eponymous makeup line in 1991, she had one thing to her mind -- to make a lipstick that looked like lips.
July 15, 2014 -- Updated 0914 GMT (1714 HKT)
The Cornell educated executive, who is hotly tipped as the successor to magnate Steve Wynn, is about to unveil the latest Wynn Palace in Macau.
July 3, 2014 -- Updated 1154 GMT (1954 HKT)
From Coco Chanel to DVF, CNN takes a look at celebrated fashion designers and the iconic pieces which launched their careers.
June 25, 2014 -- Updated 1115 GMT (1915 HKT)
:KNOXVILLE, TN - MAY 28: Dolly Parton performs during a concert to benefit Dolly's Imagination Library & Dr. Robert F. Thomas Foundation at The University of Tennessee's Thompson-boling Arena on May 28, 2014 in Knoxville, Tennessee. (Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images)NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 05: Debbie Harry of Blondie performs onstage at the Amnesty International Concert presented by the CBGB Festival at Barclays Center on February 5, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images for CBGB)
When titans of music Dolly Parton and Debbie Harry perform at one of the biggest music festivals on the planet, Glastonbury, who will be crowned queen?
June 17, 2014 -- Updated 1349 GMT (2149 HKT)
2 Caption:Avignon, FRANCE: Serb artist Marina Abramovic performs in 'The Biography Remix' directed by Michael Laub from Netherlands, 10 July 2005 at the Benoix-XII house during the Theater Festival held in Avignon southern France. AFP PHOTO ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT (Photo credit should read ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT/AFP/Getty Images)
CNN meets Serbian-born New-York based performance artist Marina Abramovic, as she embarks on the most controversial show of her career.
May 9, 2014 -- Updated 1325 GMT (2125 HKT)
This Mother's Day, we're celebrating the many women in the world who have provided care, love and guidance for children who are not biologically their own.
June 10, 2014 -- Updated 1506 GMT (2306 HKT)
She turned her bohemian beach style and love of ballet shoes into a billion-dollar brand. This week on Leading Women, fashion designer Tory Burch reveals her ultimate style guru.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1623 GMT (0023 HKT)
Meet Mo Abudu, the talk show host portraying a very different Africa. As a glamorous presenter, she also heads up Ebony Life TV network, based in Nigeria.
May 23, 2014 -- Updated 0936 GMT (1736 HKT)
A lone blonde woman, wrapped in nothing but a sarong, leads four camels and a little dog across one of the most inhabitable environments on Earth.
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1216 GMT (2016 HKT)
Their job is capturing the most horrifying images on Earth -- keeping their eyes open, where others must look away. Meet Kate Brooks and Gerda Taro, the war photographers of today and yesterday.
March 25, 2014 -- Updated 1819 GMT (0219 HKT)
Gloria Steinem speaks onstage during Equality Now presents 'Make Equality Reality' at Montage Hotel on November 4, 2013 in Los Angeles, California.
As Gloria Steinem turns 80, Kathleen McCartney highlights the remarkable life of the feminist so far.
February 26, 2014 -- Updated 1650 GMT (0050 HKT)
Former U.S. State Deparment Anne-Marie Slaughter says Brad Pitt is 'posterchild for engaged fatherhood'.
May 7, 2014 -- Updated 0750 GMT (1550 HKT)
Ahead of the release of her 14th studio album, take a look at the remarkable career of Mariah Carey, who went from curly-haired girl next door to elusive chanteuse.
March 8, 2014 -- Updated 1632 GMT (0032 HKT)
CNN hosted a Tweetchat on gender equality with special guests including Nobel Peace prize laureate Tawakkol Karman. Here's what you missed.
March 13, 2014 -- Updated 1059 GMT (1859 HKT)
From shaving her head for climate change to opting for a sustainable business model, Vivienne Westwood is simply unstoppable.
April 2, 2014 -- Updated 1502 GMT (2302 HKT)
In what would be a dream come true for her alter ego, Carrie Bradshaw -- Sarah Jessica Parker has turned her love of fashion into a new shoe range with Manolo Blahnik.