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Unsurprisingly, women complete the majority of the world’s unpaid work, which is primarily domestic in nature. The largest untapped source of global labor could potentially increase Egypt’s gross domestic product by 34 percent, according to a 2014 World Bank report.  Resulting growth would have the potential to drastically reduce economic inequality around the world.

How can a labor force that would strengthen the global economy remain so underutilized? Women have long faced the cultural and domestic limitations preventing them from prospering in the labor market. Over the past two decades, women’s presence in the workplace dropped by 2 percent. A lack of financial independence and control over one’s own education and family planning can threaten a woman’s job. Women would need more capital, education and networking connections in order to seriously compete with men in the global market.Legally, women face further discrimination. For his wife to work outside the house, 15 governments worldwide require a husband’s permission. Pension guidelines throughout many regions clearly differentiate between genders, resulting in a gap that increases the financial dependency of elderly women.

The kinds of jobs belonging to the women active in the economy are primarily part-time and low-wage. The International Labour Organization has found that the difference in pay between members of both sexes working the same job can range from 10 percent to 30 percent. Women in the workplace are grossly underrepresented in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). In the informal sector, women are often exploited with little or no pay.

The World Bank research suggests that when women work, they form new consumer markets to spend portions of their income which spurs growth. Within a firm, promotion of current female employees cuts the cost of training and advertising for new male candidates. Companies with at least one female board member have proven 26 percent more profitable.

Diversity promotes new perspectives that lead to cost-cutting innovations, which would explain the difference. Latin America and the Caribbean, for example, saw a 35 percent rise in female involvement in the economy since 1990, and decades later, the region’s poverty rate is 30 percent lower than it otherwise would have been.

Encouraging change demands, as the Bank suggests, careful deconstruction of gender-based societal limitations. This means including gender equality education in early school curriculum, providing improved support for working mothers and giving women the same work benefits as men. Although the push for women in the workplace should expect years of future efforts, the financial benefits could be priceless.

– Erica Lignell

Sources: NPR, Tribune, World Bank