Around the world smart business leaders are seeing women's equality as a new tool for economic growth. The Economist calls it "womenomics."
"Forget China, India and the Internet," The Economist wrote in the April 12 issue. "Economic growth is driven by women." PepsiCo gets it; its new CEO is Indra Nooyi. Nooyi, listed as No. 28 among "Forbes 100 Most Powerful Women in the World," said, "Being a woman, being foreign-born, you've got to be smarter than anyone else."
Is it still true women have to be smarter and work harder than men to get ahead? A recent drumbeat of discouraging articles says, "Unfortunately, yes." There is a growing consensus that progress toward women's equality has stalled.
In her Aug. 4 op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, "Cherchez la Femme," Judith H. Dobrzynski looked at why women are not moving into corporate "clout" positions. She gave proof: A 2006 study by Catalyst, a research and advisory organization seeking to advance women in business, found only 10 female CEOs among Fortune 500 companies. That's now up to 11, but Catalyst also reports that 75 percent of those 500 companies have no women as top earners - and it will take 40 years to reach parity.
In the Aug. 6 New York Times, a front-page business story by Jenny Anderson, "The Fork in the Road: Can Women and Wall Street Live Together?" brought more evidence. She quoted Alice Wang, a managing director at JPMorgan: "The real difference between today and five or 10 years ago is that now everyone recognizes there is a true business case for having a diverse workforce. We've all concluded we want the top talent, however it comes."
The conclusion: "Wall Street must change fundamentally if it wants to hire and keep more women."
A day later, the AFL-CIO released its report on 22,000 women who answered the "Ask a Working Woman" Web-based survey. Despite a persistent gender pay gap of 20 cents on the dollar, 38 percent of the respondents make all or most of their family's income; three-fourths make half, or more than half.
These are smart women. "Women say they continue to feel like second-class citizens who are not treated fairly or equally," the survey reports. "They're viewed with less value and paid differently than their male counterparts."
Our overwhelmingly male model of decision-making is obsolete. Let's change it to end the hidden costs of gender inequality. The World Economic Forum study, "Women's Empowerment: Measuring the Global Gender Gap," found that the U.S. is 17th out of 58 countries, dragged down by low scores on measures of economic opportunity.
The United States lagged behind because of our failure to have paid childbirth leave (ranking us with Lesotho, Swaziland and Papua New Guinea), wage inequalities in the private sector and a lack of child care.
Major attitudinal shifts are in order. More female decision-makers will bring a full skill set and determination and, in addition, will add focus, experience and attention to addressing badly needed (and neglected) family and work issues.
But that is not enough. Women's equality can't just be about women struggling for rights for themselves, their daughters and their granddaughters. Men must call for equality and act positively to achieve it. We'll continue to lose out unless the barriers fall and our economy fully capitalizes on the talent, energy and creativity of women, too.
I'm waiting for headlines like these: "Glass ceiling cracks open: Women 40% of top CEOs" or "Child-care woes on the way out: All parents able to choose quality options" or "No more sticky floor: The pay gap closes."
We've got a long way to go.