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Introducing the World's Most Influential Woman

Posted: 05/11/10 10:25 AM ET

Who are the world's most influential women? With Mother's Day brunch still being digested, we think it's a no brainer. For both of us--it's our mothers. Maddy's mother, Sally Kent Fusco, has been through it all: a first husband who couldn't earn a consistent living and died young, and a second who is her soul-mate for life, helping to bring her economic emancipation to boot. When Christine's mother, Peggi Berge, found herself suddenly, unexpectedly single after years as a stay at home mom, she went back to school, became a nurse and worked nights to support her two children. Today, she's comfortably retired on her own earnings.

The story of heroic mothers is nothing new. But, as we discuss in our new book, "Influence: How Women's Soaring Economic Power will Transform Our World for the Better," what is new is the way that mothers around the world, through their efforts to support their families, are finally, at long last, beginning to achieve economic emancipation. Women in the US and overseas are becoming financially powerful enough to stand on their own two feet and tip the world's power balance, starting with home life, extending to work life, and finally affecting general society.

The massive entry of women into the paid workforce had not started to translate into real social and political influence for women until recently. It's become clear that the health of the global economy now demands that women realize their full potential as economic participants. This transformed world, where women hold economic power equal to men's, is inevitable not only because it's the right thing to do, but because it's the "bright" thing to do. Human economic success now depends on it. The data shows that countries that harness women's economic power are winning. Those that fail to embrace this trend will lose.

In the past few years, prominent economists and policy makers have abruptly woken to the fact that women's equality in the workplace is not just a "women's issue," but a serious factor in global economic competitiveness. In Geneva, the World Economic Forum--a global group of influential economists and policy makers--launched a comprehensive annual Global Gender Gap Report, developed by WEF's Global Competitiveness Network. In these reports, WEF has repeatedly found a direct connection between a country's ability to tap the skills and talents of women and its economic success. According to the 2007 report, "a nation's competitiveness depends significantly on whether and how it educates and utilizes its female talent."

See, Mom? It's not just your family you were helping ... it was the world.

This is how it happens. In our book, Influence, we describe what we call "the three stages of economic power." First, a woman--like Christine's mom--sets out to help her family survive. We call this first stage of economic power Survival. Survival is a woman earning enough to put a roof over her family's heads, to feed and clothe her children. The second stage is Independence -- this is when a woman feels free from daily worries about food and shelter, and can rely on herself to provide more than just the basics.

We believe that until now, most women in the world, even where they've been in the workforce in large numbers for decades, have been stalled in the Survival or Independence stages. But in the US and many other countries, women are about to reach a tipping point, to cross, en masse, to the third stage of economic power -- Influence. That's when women use their money, their economic status and the confidence it brings to make significant change within their workplaces, homes and governments. Influence is Indra Nooyi, chairman and CEO of Pepsico, vowing that within a few years, the company would earn half its profits from healthy products. Influence is Northern California entrepreneur Sally Thornton founding Flexperience, an innovative consulting firm matching experienced, talented women with part-time, flexible jobs at big corporations. Influence is college senior Kawtar Chyraa at al Akhawayn University in Ifrane, Morocco, raising enough money to build a school. Influence is women using their economic power and confidence to reinvent systems originally designed by men, for men; to better fit the way we all live today.

We are part of a turning point in history. For the first time, the smartest nations, corporations and communities know that they must seek ways to better nurture and harness the full talents of their entire population, both women and men. And there is ample hard evidence to show that tapping women's talents, in every sphere, will make the world more equitable and more prosperous. (There are lots of examples in the book itself.)

When a country educates its girls and women, its gross domestic product grows. When a corporation adds more women to its senior leadership, the company performs better financially than if there were only men at the top. This isn't feminist ideology: This is research, supported by study after study.

Countries and companies face a unique opportunity, here and now: To create a world where both women and men can bring their wide array of talents to bear on the problems of the world. But this moment, like mother's day, will soon pass. Companies and countries that heed the call, accepting and facilitating women's rising power, will emerge as winners in the economy of the future. Those that don't will be left behind.

For women themselves, this is an unparalleled moment. For the good of families, personal economies and national economics, it's time for women to take the step to influence. It's time not to seize power from men, but to shift it, so half the world's citizens hold half the world's economic, social and political influence.

Our mothers may not have dreamed that this was the lesson they were teaching. But it's one we hope our daughters will carry on. And please share your stories on influence!

 
 
 

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