Women remain 'under-utilised economic asset', Booz says

BUSINESSDESK: Women are an "under-utilised economic asset" in the global economy, a new survey by international consulting and management firm Booz and Co shows.

Women will play a significant role in the global economy over the next 10 years, with about 1 billion females set to enter the workforce – about the same size as the population of India or China.

Booz's survey, Empowering the Third Billion: Women and the World of Work in 2012, ranks female access to education, equal pay, childcare and anti-discrimination policies in 128 countries.

New Zealand women surveyed are the 5th most economically empowered, behind Australia, which topped that index, and Norway, Sweden and Finland.

Yemen is the worst nation in the world in terms of empowerment of women, leading the ranks of tail-enders such as Pakistan, Sudan, Chad and Syria.

"Positive steps intended to economically empower women not only contribute to the immediate goals of mobilizing the female workforce, but also lead to broader gains for all citizens in such areas as economic prosperity, health, early childhood, development, security and freedom," Booz says in its report.

"Even when setting aside legislative measures to improve women's quality of life, or setting standards for the number of high-level positions held by women, government leaders have several precise levers they can pull to economically empower their female citizens." 

Stock exchange regulator NZX is working with the Ministry of Women's Affairs to compel listed companies to disclose the gender composition of their boards and senior management teams from December 31.

NZX-listed companies lag behind the ASX when it comes to women's representation on boards. Of the 574 board positions, 11% are held by women, according to NZX data compiled by investment bank Goldman Sachs.

That is less than the 12.9% of women on companies in the S&P/ASX 200 Index, the 2011 Gender Diversity on Australian Boards survey shows.

The Serious Fraud Office, the government's white-collar crime investigator, gave a gender breakdown in its annual report, released on Wednesday. It employs 28 women and 26 men but only two females sit on the management team, compared to five men.

At a recent conference on women's issues organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, secretary-general Angel Gurria summed up the challenge, saying: "Women are the most under-utilised economic asset in the world's economy."

The third billion index groups the indictors of women's economic standing into two clusters.

The first was inputs – steps that governments and the private sector can take to improve the economic position of women. New Zealand ranks eighth on that measure behind Sweden, Belgium, Australia, the Netherlands, Norway, Finland and Iceland.

The African nation of Chad was last, followed by Sudan, Yemen and the Solomon Islands.

The index also considers outputs, the observable aspects (social, political, and economic) of women's participation in the national economy. These include the ratio of pay between women and men as well as the proportion of women among technical workers, senior business leaders and employees.

New Zealand moved up two places to sixth. Australia was first, Norway was second and Finland third. Yemen was again last, followed by Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

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Women are an "under-utilised economic asset"? Hardly. I hear some women charge up to $200 for a 30minute lap dance.

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