Booz & Company’s newly-released report, Empowering the Third Billion, represents an extremely important contribution to the progress toward women’s economic empowerment. I strongly recommend reading this report to everyone who follows this blog.
Booz is by no means the first of the big “management thinking” companies to arrive at the conclusion that empowering women is crucial to the health of the global economy. McKinsey & Company’s 2010 Women Matter was an important opening shot in the management discourse over women’s economic equality in the 21st century. Goldman Sachs has issued a couple of white papers that are, in my opinion, very important contributions.
On the policy side, one can hardly overstate the contribution of the UNDP and the World Economic Forum in their efforts to collect, collate, analyze, and publicize data on gender and economics. Booz is building on the data collected by others, especially the World Economic Forum and The Economist Intelligence Unit, and have assembled a new score, the Third Billion Index, for all of us to watch.
Nevertheless, the Booz report breaks new ground. The important difference is that the Booz methodology presumes the need for an active global effort to empower women economically and assumes an evaluative posture in reporting the outcomes. They look at the inputs in terms of policy steps taken by countries and then assess the effects in terms of a set of comparative output measures.
In designing the methodology this way, Booz has moved the attitude of the discourse forward into a more proactive stance. They list and analyze countries as to whether they are “on the path to success” or “taking the right steps” or only “at the starting gate” (that is to say, doing nothing). They not mincing words, but are advocating and articulating in a clear and fresh way.
Booz’s analysis also provides new ammunition for arguing on behalf of women in the world economy. As they say in the Executive Summary:
The data shows a very strong correlation between index scores and beneficial outcomes. Such a relationship indicates that postive steps intended to economically empower women not only contribute to the immediate goals of mobilizing the female workforce, but also lead to broader gains for all citizens in such areas as economic prospoerity, health, early childhood dvelopment, security, and freedom.
This is a crucial conclusion. The idea has been a consistent theme in the literature of women’s issues, but it is typically argued with anecdotal rather than quantitative evidence. Our findings give compelling numerical evidence of a correlation between women’s eocnomic participation and a country’s general economic growth and well-being. They strongly suggest that the economic advancement of women doesn’t just empower women but also leads to greater overall proposerity.
It is somewhat unfair to dismiss previous reports that reach a similar conclusion as “anecdotal.” However, it certainly helps the argument to have both the rigor of Booz’s analysis and the weight of their considerable reputation behind this overall conclusion.
The report also delves more deeply into the status of a subset of nations at different stations along the “path to success,” something that will be a big help to analysts and policy makers. They have also featured some important programs undertaken by private companies–Goldman Sachs’ 10,000 Women Initiative, Coca-Cola’s 5 by 20 program, and Dell’s efforts behind women’s entrepreneurship and technology–that will also provide good guidance for future practice. They recognize the contribution of the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, a group that I am associated with and also increasingly impressed by.
So you can see from the Booz report that a critical new point in advocacy on behalf of women has been reached. Not only do we see a strong advocacy position being taken by a respected institution, accompanied by compelling analysis, but we are seeing a platform for recognizing important players and best practices. I am honored to have made a (very small) contribution to this work.