March 7, 2023
There’s no question that empowering women to participate in their local, national, and global economies can have a positive overall impact. Statistics show that greater equality in education, workforce opportunities, and entrepreneurship can lead to improved business outcomes and stronger, more inclusive economic growth.
While the movement for economic equality among the genres has made great strides in recent years, there’s still more that can be done by business leaders and the government to further empower women in the United States. Carolyn Cawley, President of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, and Ramin Toloui, Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs, gave a keynote address at the 13th Annual International Women’s Day Forum that discussed the pathways to advancing women’s economic empowerment and the impact such actions will have on the future of the country.
Strengthening Communities Can Help Bring More Women Into the Workforce
As the country faces a massive labor shortage, female participation in the workforce has plummeted to levels not seen in several decades, according to Cawley.
“We have 3 million fewer people working today than we did three years ago,” Cawley said. “Women's participation in the workforce hasn't been this low since the ‘70s, [and] 1 million women are missing from our labor force today compared to before the pandemic.
“[That’s] something we've got to improve if we're going to have a full pandemic recovery, a full economic recovery,” she added.
To get more women into the workforce, Cawley believes in harnessing the power of business and working together to strengthen communities nationwide by promoting full and equal participation.
“We're in the business of communities. [This] can mean a community by geography, or… a community of people or… of shared interests,” said Cawley. “We know that every single one of those communities is better when women are stronger, and they're extended every opportunity for education and learning and the opportunity to seek financial freedom. For a lot of women and girls around the world, the opportunity to even dream about those things.”
Women Are Disproportionately Affected by Economic Insecurity
In the face of COVID-19, statistics show that women were disproportionately affected by its impact, with many forced to put their educations or careers on pause to fulfill a caregiver role.
“The ILO (International Labour Organization) estimates that COVID has forced 2 million women globally to drop out of the labor force to meet caregivers and other immediate family needs,” Toloui said. “UNESCO (The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) estimates that 11 million girls whose schooling was disrupted by the pandemic may never return to school.”
Women aren’t just impacted disproportionately by the pandemic — they also face disproportionate impacts of climate change, conflict displacement, and migration, according to Toloui.
“The reality is that globally, women are far less likely to enjoy economic security than men, which further supports the need for such a global strategy,” Toloui said.
Programs and Strategies Are Being Adopted Globally to Elevate Women
To advance women’s participation in the workforce, many strategies have been implemented worldwide. One such strategy is the U.S. Strategy on Global Woman’s Economic Security, which was hosted by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
“This strategy mobilizes 14 federal departments and agencies to advance a vision in which women and girls around the world in all their diversity can fully, meaningfully, and equally contribute to and benefit from economic growth and global prosperity,” Toloui shared.
Another program, led by Toloui, is the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs’ POWER (Providing Opportunities for Women’s Economic Rise) initiative.
“Our objective is to connect the U.S. private sector with women entrepreneurs and business leaders abroad to facilitate partnerships that advance climate innovation, strengthen supply chains, support small and medium-sized enterprises, increase digital and financial inclusion, and expand access to technology,” Toloui said.
These programs, among others, are creating equal opportunities for women and positively impacting their workforce participation; however, their effectiveness relies heavily on women supporting women.
“The long-term effectiveness of efforts to empower women economically depends on the existence of strong, active professional female networks,” Toloui said. “POWER helps to establish those networks to support women in expanding their businesses and overcoming barriers.”