When women mean business

A recent APEC declaration on women's economic participation will help promote what is increasingly obvious – the female workforce is the key to global prosperity.

A declaration was signed by 21 developed and developing economies at the first APEC Women’s Economic Summit held earlier this year and led by Hillary Rodham Clinton, Secretary of State.

‘So what?’, you might say, ‘another pointless declaration to sit in an inbox with no enforcements.’ Well, perhaps that is true for those that look at the glass half-empty, but I suspect that on this occasion the glass will be half-full; it is money that makes the world go around, after all, and this declaration is about increasing profits.

A universal economic change is upon us and many are firm believers that women are leading the change. According to a large number of profit and loss statements around the world, women are actually good for the bottom line.

The World Bank went further and said that women have a higher return on investment than men. If we are to digest the message delivered by the Secretary of State during her keynote speech at APEC we will understand that: "To achieve the economic expansion we all seek, we need to unlock a vital source of growth that can power our economies in the decades to come. And that vital source of growth is women.”

The aims of the declaration, signed by Kevin Rudd in San Francisco on September 16, confirm that there is a global commitment to giving women access to capital so that entrepreneurs can turn their ideas into small and medium enterprises; and that women are a good source of growth and job creation.

Clinton also said that "there is a direct correlation between the gender gap and economic productivity – the lower the former, the higher the latter.” And so the bottom line is the ruler of results.

The global economy has been struggling for several years now and the GFC is still a topic of conversation within the global village. ‘Is it over yet?’, ‘Will it return?’ ‘Who and how will survive?’ are a few questions on the lips of the majority.

The future, however, is a mystery, but human nature is not. Men are aggressive and risk-takers whilst women are nurturing and look for security. So logic reigns at this time and men are now starting to look at women to clean up the mess and build a more secure economic environment for companies, their communities and our global economy.

And it seems that the corporate community of boys agree. At the recent launch of Australia's ‘Male Champions of Change’ organisation the audience was advised that if we continue moving at the pace we are at today, we will have to wait another 179 years for equality in business! The Male Champions of Change, about 20 of them, have signed a letter to confirm that women are good for business and should be given a fair go.

It appears that we all agree that 179 years is too long a wait and those that want instant results and action have taken significant steps to ensure change is immediate and eminent. A great example is the International Monetary Fund. Christine Lagarde, managing director, is the first woman in this position and she has a rather significant and urgent situation to attend to.

In order to clean up the economic mess the world is in and in order to get the economy back on track we need women; women at the top, women in the middle and women leaders in all industries and on all continents. Women business owners that run micro businesses, SMEs and sole traders are also of the upmost importance.

In the past few years we have seen a massive shift of women leaving the corporate world to start up their own business. Women are now starting up firms at almost double the rate compared to men – technology and education has facilitated this trend and it will continue (in the US the number of women-owned firms has increased from 30 per cent to 50 per cent in less than a decade).

Today, the new generation of women graduating from our universities – 60 per cent of graduates in total – are financially savvy and the first generation to consider owning a business as a ‘career option’.

The future is now, and today we know that women have the power of the purse, injecting $20 trillion annually into the global economy. Women make 70 per cent of consumer decisions and that number is growing.

Today, the consumer has the power to make or break a business in a very short time. Consumers can access any piece of information prior to making a purchase and spread the word faster than a virus spreads. Beware those without women on their board and those that are not female friendly.

The gender gap still has a long way to go before it closes. And so the declaration signed by the countries that represent more than half of the total economic global output, have now confirmed that it’s good business to give women a fair go and are determined to implement policies that will provide women with access to capital, access to markets and leadership skills, as well as improving the collection of sex-disaggregated data on SMEs.

The declaration of 2011 is a significant document and a smart business decision – tapping into women, the untapped source, is the only way to see our economy and communities grow and prosper.

Yolanda Vega is chief executive of the Australian Women Chamber of Commerce & Industry.

The AWCCI is currently conducting the first national research project in Australia to learn about women business owners. The poll takes ten minutes to complete and is now online at: awcci.org.au