Janice K. Lee
The World's Best Investment
Updated: Sep 16, 2020
Recognizing systematic failures, and how to fix one of the world's biggest problems.
As a first-year member of Rutgers' Women BUILD program, I attend Leadership Roundtables, one of the bi-weekly events where senior women in industries talk to my cohort about their experience and journeys around gendered workplaces.
During my first Women BUILD leadership roundtable, VP in the Market Strategy team of Goldman Sachs, Candace Tse joined us to talk about her responsibility for economic and market strategy and investment solutions. At the end of the hour, her lesson was clear: if you invest in women, you have better communities, families, and a global economy.
Understanding the "gender gap"
While everyone's heard of the gender gap— the discrepancy in opportunities, status, attitudes, etc., between men and women— before, they might not be aware of what constitutes the term. It's broken into four factors, known effectively as HELP: Health, Education, Labor, and Politics. While the world has, for the most part, improved in the first two areas, the latter half of Labor and Politics have yet to improve. Women across the board are underrepresented— women make up only 22% of the tech industry and only 23.2% of the total of U.S. Representatives in Congress, just to list a few. Recognizing that improvement needs to be met in the latter two is the first step towards understanding the problem to find a solution.
Womenomics & Japan Case Study
Tse introduced the concept of "Womenomics" and proceeded to use Japan as an example. In the earlier years of the 2000s, Japan was facing severe population collapse and the M-Curve, where many women who had degrees and education saw a decline in labor and opportunities because of motherhood. With a decreasing working population and working women unable to work due to tending to their children and families, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe pledged to decrease the gap. This included paid maternity and paternity leave, and increased daycares so parents could work without leaving their children behind.
Womenomics is the idea that women’s economic advancement will improve the economy as a whole.
Now, Japan's female labor participation rate is higher than in the USA. Goldman Sachs estimated that by closing the gender employment gap, the potential boost to Japan’s GDP could be nearly 13%. While some progress has been made in recent years, there is still much room for improvement. Women in Japan barely make up executive-level positions, and Japan still ranks first for the lowest political representation of women in office.
There are 3 main factors of why Japanese women have lower rates of employment, pay, and status in the workforce despite their higher rates of education:
Economic policies: In most Japanese families, the husband is the main income earner. If their wives work, the tax system allows husbands to take a “dependent exemption” (basically, letting them pay less in taxes). In addition, women tend to do low-earning, part-time jobs.
Social welfare policies: In many countries, it is common for women to leave the workforce temporarily after they have a child. But in Japan, 70% of them leave and do not return for at least 10 years!
Cultural and social norms: According to one group of Japanese analysts, “one of the greatest barriers to higher Japanese female employment is Japanese society itself.” This takes many forms. For example, in Japan, getting a promotion at work is often based at least partly on tenure, which refers to the length of time a person has worked for a company or other organization. This has disadvantages for those women who leave their jobs temporarily to have children.
So what's the solution?
It's right in the title: invest in women. Invest in their health, opportunities, maternity, and most importantly, education.
Adding women to the global economy would add 30 trillion dollars to the global economy. According to the Malala Fund, if women were to complete secondary education by just 1 percent, a country's economy would grow by .3 percent. Increase the number of people with strong literacy and numeracy scores, it will increase economic growth by a whole 2 percent!
But you're not a company with millions of dollars! How can you help?
Recognize your biases and work on your unconscious bias at work, school, and home (this applies to both males and females)
If you can mentor someone, mentor them! Mentored women are statistically more successful in the workplace than non-mentored women. They rise to positions of power more quickly and with fewer roadblocks than women who do not have a mentor. Men in positions of power, as a rule, simply don’t offer women mentorship opportunities as they do to other men. There are numerous reasons for this – implicit bias, traditional sentiments of a boys' club, and misguided fear of harassment accusations (yup, crazy but it's true).
If you invest in women, you're investing in better communities, families, the global economy, and yourself. For some, it can take $0 dollars to start doing that.