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What do growth, expansion and prosperity have in common? In French grammar they are feminine and when it comes to facts and figures they are feminine as well. Forget China, India and even new technologies – for the past 10 years the number one vector for global growth has been women.
Since 1970, women have held two out of three new jobs. According to The Economist, which compiled studies from a number of research firms, the arrival of this new workforce has done more to encourage global growth than increases in capital investment and improvements in productivity. “Over the last 10 years the increase in women [in the workplace] in developed countries has made more of a contribution to global growth than China has,” concludes the British weekly.
Let us look at France and the US. The female workforce is growing at an increasingly rapid rate. At the beginning of the 1950s, 7m women held a paying job in France, or about a third of the working population. Today women make up 47 per cent of the workforce. A similar scenario applies to Sweden, the UK and the US, where a third of women of working age were employed in 1950 and two-thirds today. The increased number of women in the working population compensates for the negative demographic effects of an ageing population and lower birth rates. The same trend is now also visible in emerging countries. South-east Asia’s economic success is due primarily to women, who hold two-thirds of the jobs in the export industry, the region’s most dynamic sector.
So, will the workplace, where women have long fought for their rightful place, become woman’s domain?
One thing is certain: women’s rise in power, which is linked to the increase in wealth per capita, is happening
in all domains and at all levels of society. Women are no longer content to provide efficient labour or to be
consumers with rising budgets and more autonomy to spend. They are increasingly becoming directors, managers and entrepreneurs. Some studies have even shown a correlation between the presence of women in managerial positions and a company’s financial results.
This is just the beginning. The phenomenon will only grow as girls prove to be more successful than boys in the school system and enrol in higher numbers in universities. For a number of observers, we have already entered the age of “womenomics”, the economy as thought out and practised by women. Those Chinese who desire that their only child be male may soon realise that a daughter could be a better investment. Bosses know full well that a team of both men and women is more creative and efficient than one comprised of only men.
But perhaps we are getting ahead
of ourselves. Despite their irrevocable rise in power, women remain under-
utilised and not only in emerging countries. In Italy, for example, the number of working women is still at only 40 per cent of the workforce. Even in
countries where there are a large number of women doctors, lawyers and high-level executives, they represent only a small percentage of surgeons, partners and chief executives. It is true that the “glass ceiling” that prevents women from reaching the highest echelons is also, in part, in their heads. Indeed, women seek happiness and an equilibrium in their activities more than men and often find themselves turning down responsibilities, citing the sacrifice it could mean for their family life.
We could say that the judicial progress made, such as the recent French law requiring equal pay for men and women in the workplace, is merely an opener for the work to come. If society wants to benefit from women’s resources and if companies want to hold on to talent, they must create social protections to neutralise the effects of interruptions in the career path or offer the choice to accept fewer professional obligations than a male counterpart.
“Womenomics” is not, as some would claim, a passing fad, but rather a lasting trend. Women are on centre stage when it comes to all vital issues: healthcare, education, the environment and demography. As women today are reaching positions of power in massive numbers, their responsibility towards the progress of society is growing. Women want to assume this role and they will.
The writer is the founder and president of the Women’s Forum for the Economy and Society. The annual meeting of the Women’s Forum on the theme of women’s new responsibility for improving society will be held in Deauville, France, October 5-7