The Recovery of National GDP Depends on the She-conomy | Opinion

In 2019, Morgan Stanley released two reports on women and the economy that indicated women were at the forefront of choices in discretionary spending and a growing force in driving industry, as more women take on leadership roles and choose career over childbearing.

While the pandemic took an unequal toll, forcing more women out of the workforce and into carer roles at home in addition to wage earning, the focus now on reviving the economy must skew toward favoring women for the sake of sustainability and stability.

It's been shown that where women are on boards and diversity is in the workforce, businesses do better on the share market. When women are involved in leadership, they design, create and market products and services that attract female consumers.

If women are not employed nor financially secure, the onus falls on governments to provide housing, hospital care and emergency services relating to homelessness.

When "Rise of the SHEconomy" was released in 2019, the authors acknowledged that gender diversity, an unjust male-female wage gap and women's career opportunities and challenges were all significant social and corporate issues. Each of these issues has only become more potent in the minds of corporations, investors, politicians and the populace during and post the pandemic.

The report, based on census data, indicated that in the coming years to 2030 the number of single women is projected to grow 1.2 percent annually, outstripping the 0.8 percent growth in the overall U.S. population.

Women are delaying, or rejecting, marriage; they're divorcing in their 50s and 60s, or they're making the choice to remain single. Single women have greater power to participate in the workforce, without taking time out for childbirth and raising young children. Without the responsibility of raising children, and the capacity for full-time work, women's discretionary spending is likely to increase, thus driving the economy. Perhaps Beyoncé's two hit singles predicted our current landscape: All The Single Ladies Run The World.

According to consumer surveys by MRI-Simmons, women are the principal shoppers in 72 percent of households and the Center for American Progress showed women contribute approximately $7 trillion to GDP annually in the U.S.

Their spending boosts elements of the economy that have fared best throughout the pandemic: apparel, footwear, cosmetics and skincare, takeout food, electrical goods and homewares. These are the industries best situated to drive economic growth. These sectors can also employ women and offer opportunities to a growing female workforce that reflects its consumer base.

Woman
A woman works on a laptop at a restaurants outdoor seating as temperatures reached close to 70 degrees on March 11, 2021 in New York City. Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images

As management consulting firm McKinsey & Company reported in their analysis on the future of work, "what is good for gender equality is good for the economy and society as well. The COVID-19 pandemic puts that truth into stark relief and raises critically important choices."

When women are involved in leadership, they create products and services that are ideally designed and marketed for the primary shopper in the household: women.

The win isn't just for the consumers though, with investors having good reason to want more women in leadership. The Morgan Stanley analysis showed that companies that have actively worked toward, or achieved equal gender representation over the last eight years outperformed their less diverse peers by 3.1 percent per year. Still, MSCI predicted there won't be a 50/50 gender split in global directors until 2044, despite the fact more female directors and executives were likely to have financial expertise in emerging markets. The number of companies, with majority female boards, doubled in 2019. For perspective, boards are 98.7 percent male-dominated.

Though the impact of COVID-19 on the makeup of boards and workforce diversity cannot be fully determined while so many countries are still battling the pandemic, already the situation took a disproportionate toll on women socially and financially.

According to McKinsey's report, women account for 39 percent of international employment but make up 54 percent of overall job losses. If no action were taken to counter the loss of women in the workforce, nor to provide targeted additional financial support to women, global GDP grown could be reduced by $1 trillion by 2030. McKinsey argued that taking action now—while still in a pandemic —would potentially add $13 trillion to global GDP by 2030.

What do we need?

Perhaps we need government-mandated gender quotas, or increased government financial support for women who are underemployed or unemployed. Without this, nations will be burdened with the financial and social costs of women who are penniless, homeless, in need of significant health care and aged care and vulnerable to abuse and assault.

That could cost generations of women and their children a dignified existence, which is, hopefully, more important to most of us than the GDP.

Cat Woods is a freelance writer based in Australia. She writes on art, culture and travel for international publications, and regularly writes on music for both U.S. and Australian publications. When not writing, Cat teaches yoga, Pilates and barre, listens to podcasts, binge watches anything with subtitles, and walks her two highly intelligent, very bossy dogs around her beachside home in the inner south of Melbourne.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.