Does Helping Women Help Business?

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

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