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Ladies first

By Roger Dassen - February 06, 2012

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Ladies first: An old adage, but one that was top of mind on 2 February 2012 at the Business and Industry Advisory Committee (BIAC), AmCham France, and OECD joint workshop on the economic empowerment of women. And so it should be. Women are a critical resource in facing the challenges of our global economy, both as an emerging market and as a significant pool of human talent.  Further, gender diversity creates the potential for better, more informed decision-making in our societies, an educated and diverse source of talent for private and public institutions, and role models who can be an inspiration to billions of women and men worldwide.

Addressing gender equality is not just about “fairness.” Inequality in gender empowerment raises serious economic issues for countries at all stages of development and presents considerable business challenges for all kinds of enterprises, but particularly for those that value and rely on human skills and resources.

We are lucky to live in a time where technology, the internet, and mobility are critical enablers of information sharing, communications, and resource allocation that can support gender equality efforts. Despite this positive environment and past efforts over decades to advance the economic empowerment of women in the workplace and within society, progress has been slow.

  • According to current data from Catalyst, approximately 14 percent of executive officer positions at the Fortune 500 are held by women, a number that has barely budged since 2005.
  • A global study of the number of women on boards is even more dismal – only 9.4 percent globally, up marginally from 9.2 percent in 2009 (according to Governance Metrics International).
  • This is despite the fact that economic studies show that corporations with women on their boards and in leadership positions have a higher return on equity. In Europe, the return has been estimated at more than 10 percent (Deloitte [DTTL]: The gender dividend).

Advancing equality and harnessing the gender dividend has many dimensions affected by societal norms, legal, and regulatory frameworks and local cultures. Reversing current results will require the intersection of government, business, and society. This is what the joint workshop discussed; bringing together women and men from these groups in an effort to share “real-life” experiences from business to support the OECD’s Gender Initiative. The OECD’s cross-directorate program aims to identify, and update a set of indicators on the key dimensions of gender inequality in education, employment, and entrepreneurship. It will provide sound information that can demonstrate progress by member countries, or otherwise, on this critical economic matter.

Deloitte is very engaged in supporting BIAC and its contribution to the OECD gender initiative. Like other businesses, Deloitte member firms face challenges in continuously moving the needle on gender equity. Outcomes are influenced by the maturity and development of their market, cultural norms and the legal and regulatory frameworks within which they operate.

Using the outcomes of this meeting and with Deloitte’s support, BIAC will provide a report to the 2012 OECD Ministerial and Forum later this year. We intend to share our learnings with the OECD and the Ministers, to contribute to their work on the development of best practices that promote the economic empowerment of women.

Women’s economic empowerment is not just about fairness, it’s the future. It will generate economic benefits for individuals, their families, and society at large. Deloitte is proud to support this effort.

Read my remarks from the 2 February opening at the BIAC, AmCham France & OECD joint workshop.


Charles HeeterCharles Heeter is with the DTTL Global Public Policy Group and a principal in the U.S. member firm. In his role, he engages in Deloitte global public policy initiatives, is responsible for building cooperative relationships with capital markets stakeholder groups, and helps coordinate the Deloitte global regulatory network. Heeter is also Chairman of the Business and Industry Advisory Committee to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

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I love to see that women are finally getting more recognition in both intelligence and as well as respect as consumers. We do our research and the smartest companies should always seek a woman's input before making any big decisions.

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