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According to the World Bank’s World Development Report 2012, gender parity is positively correlated with economic performance, productivity and growth. Nations across the globe have made important advances in women’s education, closing the gender gap in primary enrollment, and women have surpassed men in advanced education. Women are also increasingly entering the workforce, with participation rates rising from 50.2% to 51.8% since 1980.

Despite these trends, a gender wage gap and significant disparity between women and men in high-level corporate positions continue to be an issue:

  • Women earn between 70% and 90% of what men do for comparable work
  • Just 13% of Fortune 500 companies have female CEO’s
  • Women comprise only 9% of global corporate boards
  • Just 28% of companies include gender diversity in their company strategies

If women’s economic participation makes such solid business sense, why haven’t more companies made closing the gender gap a priority?

We attended the “Women in Business: Benchmarking Success in Achieving Gender Equality” panel at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars with panelists Beth Brooke, Laura Liswood, Nicole Schwab, and Amb. Melanne Verveer. In conjunction with the World Economic Forum, Nicole Schwab created the Gender Equality Project, a framework for measuring, tracking and benchmarking gender inequality. The project created a tool that corporations can use for self-assessment, as well as certification. The certification will identify companies that have been successful in fostering equal opportunities for men and women. The tool is based upon an assessment methodology in five areas fundamental to gender equality in the workplace:

  1. Equal pay for equivalent work
  2. Recruitment and promotion
  3. Training and mentoring
  4. Work-life balance
  5. Company culture

Vital Voices board members Amb. Melanne Verveer and Beth Brooke lauded this new tool for measuring gender inequality as a groundbreaking effort to promote corporate consciousness. Speaking about the relationship between women’s economic participation and performance, Amb. Verveer stated that “gender equality equals smart economics.” Brooke further noted that she has “seen more and more CEOs wanting to talk about the problem of the leaking pipeline [of top female talent].”

While no clear solution to the gender gap has been identified, the issue has been at the forefront of economic development discussions, not just as an important factor on the human rights front, but in the interest of the global economy.

Read more about gender inequality:

Zita de Pooter is an intern with the Online Communications department. Sarah Todnem is an intern with the Entrepreneurship and Economic Development Program