Even developed nations like Japan are suffering from the economic consequences of failing to adequately empower their female population. Japanese women are some of the most well-educated in the world, but culturally ingrained ideas of gender mean that almost 70% of Japanese women drop out of the workforce after having their first child, versus 25% in the UK and 30% in the USA. Further, only 11% of Japanese executive-level managers are women. Unsurprisingly, there is clear economic stagnation in Japan; its GDP shrank at an annualised rate of 2.5% in the last quarter of 2018, yet recent estimates indicate that economic gender parity could benefit the country to the sum of an additional £420bn ($550bn, €489bn).
In the UK, there are still too many boardroom tables with little or no women present. In the FTSE 350, only 23% of board roles are held by women and the country ranks a lowly 41st worldwide for its percentage of women managers. There are not enough UK start-ups founded by women – and not because they are lacking in ideas – and there are not enough women in governmental positions. The opportunities for improvement are even bigger in the US, particularly in Silicon Valley and in Washington where the recent surge of women to Congress is certainly a welcome development, but one that must not just be symbolic.
If there was another resource that was so powerful and so readily available, the government and big business would plough money into finding solutions to unlock its potential. But the empowerment of women is so imbued with emotion and cultural tradition that we’re not being smart enough to see the opportunity present itself to us in broad daylight. We need to look at the facts and from there make the right changes.