Although it's still rare for companies to make investments specifically aimed at helping women in developing economies, McKinsey (full report available free) has found that it's a practice not only good for society but also very good for business.
The original research, completed by Stephan Klasen and Francesca Lamanna, found what McKinsey called a "startlingly wide range" of mutual benefits to women and companies themselves. The benefits include enlarging business markets, improving both size and quality of workforce and maintaining and improving company reputations.
It's becoming more widely known that the unfulfilled potential of women has a significantly negative impact on economic growth. One intriguing study, for example, estimated that lower education and employment rates for women and girls are responsible for as much as 1.6% difference in annual GDP growth between South Asia and East Asia. You certainly can't sneeze at a figure like that when economists and traders were celebrating the U.S. fourth quarter growth of 5.7%.
Most intriguing to me was that the McKinsey study showed that business benefits can result from a broad range of measures. It's to be expected that there would be a straight link between literacy and workforce productivity. But Anglo American Mining, for example, extends HIV antiretroviral benefits to dependents (women and children) of its employees in Africa. The list of tracked benefits is startling and includes increased worker loyalty, increased retention rates, fewer missed days, lower infant mortality rates and healthier children. Furthermore, the research also found that collaborative investments with women they're trying to help also create significant benefits for companies.
I have no doubt that part of my interest in helping women is based upon the simple fact that our family has three daughters. From the time these girls were in middle-school I was being educated to the future needs of women. I was also profoundly frustrated by the response of colleagues whose families were composed primarily of boys. Although this is completely anecdotal information, again and again I found little concern about women's societal issues from corporate execs who were in their fifties or older. It took the marketing savvy of women in consumer product companies to engage the interest of execs in minority niches such as Hispanics and Blacks. The successes in marketing to those segments was often a wake-up call to execs, making it far easier for them to understand the business contribution not only of minorities, but also of women (as a minority).
As an aside, I realized in the early 1980s that single women and women with children can be among the poorest members of American society. As parents of three daughters, we pushed all of them through college and a graduate program, betting that at least one of our three daughters would be divorced, perhaps with a child. That wisdom paid off. One of our daughters is divorced with a child, but as a result of our emphasis upon graduate education and and professionalism, all three of our daughters have been able to succeed in the worst recession since the 1930s. If we'd had sons, I'd have also insisted on graduate education, but the demographics on single women with children were shocking and scary, driving our decisions.
It's surprising to recognize, now, that a smaller and smaller proportion of boys are going to college. They are placing huge limitations upon their future. How times change! If I had sons. . . well, you get the point. Years ago, after our middle daughter's college graduation, a girl friend who had failed to take advantage of the Minnesota educational opportunities asked that daughter what her dad would have done if she hadn't graduated. With a large, teasing smile, she responded. "Oh, he would have murdered me!" It strikes me that, today, a large number of boys need to hear that message.
Inevitably, research as this from McKinsey, not at all unique, is information that should be disseminated widely to major corporations. Thankfully, I'm finding a growing awareness of the role that helping women and children can drive corporate businesses. Nothing like financial incentives to gain the attention of male execs.
Photo: Flickr, Ben's Photostream, Laotian Women