The Business of Inclusion: Pushing the Envelope on Gender Equality


Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women and Michael Fenlon, Global and US Talent Leader, Principal, PwC, speak during a leadership interview at the United Nations.


Women's economic empowerment can influences many aspects of business, such as success and economic growth.

[Editor’s Note: Over the coming weeks we will be featuring blogs from our 2016 International Women’s Day Forum! Learn more about the event, and see the full list of editorials here.]

The evidence is overwhelming. Women’s economic empowerment is a key factor in driving business success and economic growth. Enlightened private sector leaders already know how greater economic opportunities for women and girls can increase their profitability as well as drive prosperity in the communities in which they operate.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation Corporate Citizenship Center, in collaboration with the United Nations, brings such leaders together every year for a forum on International Women’s Day to showcase the innovative ways business is empowering women and girls. 

This year’s forum, The Business of Inclusion: Global Prosperity Through Women and Girls’ Empowerment explored a range of ways in which business, as actors in the global economy can drive change through their policies, practices, advocacy, products and services.

Top executives from the business community came together with a range of cross sector leaders to discuss these important issues and strategies. The event explored how an inclusive workforce can create value for companies with data showing that companies with more than 30% women in leadership teams typically have a 6% high bottom line. Speakers from IBM, GE Foundation, Ernst and Young, ILO, Rethink Impact and others discussed their efforts to recruit, train and promote women and how this is delivering business value for them.  

Companies like Microsoft, USG, NBC Universal, Deloitte and others discussed the need for celebrating female role models like inventors, astronauts and math wizards and using the power of media to change harmful perceptions and stereotypes that so often hold women back. 

Cynthia Germanotta, founder of Born with Way Foundation with her daughter Stefanie Germanotta (a.k.a. Lady Gaga) added an important and often overlooked element to the discussion in speaking about the role that good emotional health can play in creating enabling conditions for young women. 

A lively discussion about the “SHEconomy” included the tremendous economic value, $28 trillion, which could be unlocked from gender focused interventions to create parity, according to a ground-breaking McKinsey Global Institute study. Panelists from WEConnect, McKinsey and AXA commented on the importance of the significant purchasing power of women. Women drive almost 80% of household buying decisions and products and services that serve an empowerment purpose can be made much more accessible and affordable to women.  Moreover, promoting women owned businesses can create substantial ripple effects lifting entire communities. 

Panelists from Kate Spade, Kellogg, Technoserve and Walmart discussed the importance of creating the right ecosystem for women’s entrepreneurship and what they are doing in their individual capacities to expand capacity building for women as well as to create markets for women entrepreneurs. They also discussed how productivity and quality are intertwined with diversity in the supply chain.

A discussion on inclusive finance for women between leaders from BBVA, JP Morgan Chase, McGraw Hill Financial, Citi Foundation and Accion concluded with the following: more integrated financial education, appropriately designed technology for women and an enabling policy environment are key ingredients to inclusion. 

An important focus of the forum was employee volunteerism and how these efforts can be leveraged to create opportunities for women and girls around the world. IMPACT 2030, a coalition of forward-looking companies has come together to promote efforts to Sustainable Development Goals. They discussed how employee volunteerism efforts can integrate Goal 5 and be leveraged to provide the right networks, tools and resources to empower girls and women. The role of business in reaching the SDGs through greater engagement on gender issues was discussed in depth by DSM, Qualcomm, UN Foundation and Microsoft. The panelists also talked about the critical need for quality data and measurements.

The issue of how to involve men in these efforts was expertly tackled by the leadership of PwC, a company at the forefront of advocating for a HeforShe movement. PwC demonstrated their leadership in this area in a conversation with Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka , United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women. 

Other topics covered the importance of youth development to addressing empowerment issues early in the life cycle, policy constraints for women and girls in different markets and the importance of sector and uncommon alliances in addressing gender issues.

Our annual International Women’s Day forum plays an important role in highlighting the vital role of business in solving the critical issue of gender inequality which still exists in the most advanced of economies. Business leaders are taking a high profile stage at the UN to highlight these issues and proactively suggesting solutions. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation shows every year through this program why empowering women and girls is both a moral and economic imperative and how the private sector can be a key partner in fulfilling this imperative.