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Woman Power

Sunday March 8 is International Women’s Day, and this year’s theme is ‘make it happen’. Business it seems, is certainly one area where women are changing the game, writes Jai Breitnauer

Not so long ago a woman in business was a rare thing, and as consumers our mother’s and grandmother’s generations were either marginalised or patronised. As recently as 2008 a double-glazing salesman refused to give me a quote because my husband wasn’t at home. But those old school attitudes are being forced to change as women emerge as an economic power.

Women are increasingly becoming a global driving force behind business. Whether they’re making the money or spending it the power of a woman’s touch cannot be underestimated. There are now 21 Fortune 500 companies lead by women, with 7.8 million US businesses owned by women*. According to global management consultants the Boston Consulting Group, 75 percent of worldwide discretionary spending is controlled by women, and the projected global income of women for 2018 is US $18 trillion; that’s a $5 trillion increase from now.

Women world-over are benefitting from this new economic clout – not least in education. In the US, women now achieve 57 percent of bachelor’s degrees, where just a few decades ago many American colleges wouldn’t even admit women. Across OECD countries, 43 percent of women aged 25-34 have completed a degree, compared to just 34 percent of men the same age. As a result, women are more likely to be the primary breadwinner in a family, with more of their own money to spend.

Women’s rising economic strength,increasing roles in corporate leadership and philanthropic priorities are helping drive global change 

Successful women aren’t just poster girls for feminism – they are more likely to lift their whole community. “In emerging markets, women reinvest 80 percent of their income back into human resources—into their families, health care, education, nutrition”, says Jackie VanderBrug, senior vice president in the Portfolio Analytics, Consulting and Institutional Group at US Trust. That’s double what it is for men, and it’s leading to a burgeoning talent pool further down the generational line. This is particularly noticeable in the developing world, where empowering women through social enterprise has emerged as the key to empowering communities as a whole.

In the developed world, women entering the workforce for the first time boost a country’s economic power. For example, in Japan, equal participation in the workforce by women is estimated to boost the economy by 9 percent. In addition, female entrepreneurs are more likely to enter the market place with a socially responsible business model. In the UK, home of the fastest growing social enterprise sector in the developed world, 91 percent of such businesses have a female director**.

New Zealand has a long history of girl-power. Not just the first country to give women the right to vote, we’ve also spearheaded legislation on women’s property rights, been at the forefront of encouraging women in sport and supported law changes to allow women into the professions. Women have historically enjoyed higher wages here than in Europe – a carrot to encourage migration – but there is still a pay-gap that needs to be addressed.

There are other anomalies. Women outnumbered men by 63,000 at New Zealand’s 2001 census, yet only 31 percent of parliament is staffed by female MPs***. Most disturbingly, up to 39 percent of Kiwi women will experience violence from a partner in their lifetime – the worst affected of the OECD countries accordingly to a 2011 report.

Let’s make 2015 a year to not only celebrate the economic achievements of women, but recognise and address the areas where there is still much work to be done.

Sources: *National Women’s Business Council ** Socialenterprise.org.uk

*** Statistics New Zealand

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