THE BLOG

On International Women's Day, Business Leaders Call for Action

03/06/2015 09:46 am ET | Updated May 06, 2015

On Sunday, millions of women and men will celebrate International Women's Day. A great deal of progress has been made since this day was first marked in 1911, yet more than a century later, gender equality is still a major challenge.

On this important day, we have joined forces with UN Women -- to stand up for the rights of women and eliminate discrimination.

We believe men must stand alongside women and girls around the world, which is why we are supporting the HeforShe Campaign, a global movement of men supporting gender equality. We hope thousands of business leaders will sign up too. We urge them because it's not only the right thing to do, it's also in the best interest of business and the wider economy.

The facts are damning. Worldwide women are still paid 10 - 30 %less than men on average, and 16% less in OECD countries. Just 12% of companies globally have female CEOs. And despite more women graduating from colleges and universities than ever before, an overwhelming 79% of new graduates hires are men. Yet, the business case for greater diversity has never been clearer.

A recent study of Fortune 500 companies found that companies with the highest representation of women in management positions delivered 34% greater returns to shareholders than their counterparts with lower representation. We also know that women are key to enhancing economies.disproportionately re-investing their incomes back into their families and communities, exponentially driving down hunger, poverty and malnutrition, and improving health, education and well-being, as well as being the key drivers in purchasing decisions.

Women working benefits economies. According to Goldman Sachs, if the female employment rate in the developed world rose to match that of men, the overall level of GDP of a country could be boosted by over 12% on average.

Whilst making up 32% of the global workforce, a study by Grant Thornton shows that, on current trends, it will be the year 2096 before women have the same economic power and opportunities as men. Waiting to the end of this century is simply too great a loss, for our daughters and granddaughters, for our societies and our economies.

By the end of this decade another 856 million women will enter the workforce. It is critical that these women enjoy equality of opportunity and the chance to contribute their full potential. As business leaders, we can help lead the way and drive the transition to a fairer, more inclusive economy. It has to start with equal opportunities for women and men, and it is time to scale up our combined efforts.

Businesses need to celebrate and cultivate diversity, including gender, at all levels, as a vital driver of creativity and innovation. Leveling the playing field for everyone will require transforming business models and cultures, re-evaluating incentive structures and transforming governance. If we are to be successful, we need to design workplaces so women and men can thrive.

From re-writing parental leave policies, to establishing mentorship programs and defining clear pathways for progression, as business leaders, we believe the best way to accelerate the movement for gender equality is to start at home, transforming our own companies and industries.

But whilst building gender-balanced organizations is key, to create a society where women are truly empowered, we can and must do far more, in business. We need to promote safety for women in communities where we operate, expand the opportunities for women in our extended supply chains, and enhance their access to training and skills. All these steps will help improve their prospects, livelihoods and their yields. It's widely accepted that empowering women is the single most important intervention to enhance economic and social development. Just consider the scale of change that can be made if all businesses embrace this -- the creation of a virtuous circle unlocks so much exciting potential.

On International Women's Day, we call upon business leaders to make the HeForShe pledge and commit alongside us to taking action against all forms of violence and discrimination faced by women and to build companies that truly value diversity. We've begun this journey, you should join us.

Read about gender diversity in our recent report, The Diversity Paradox, and find out more about the Business Case for Diversity.