Gender Smart | March 6, 2018

Women’s leadership delivers a prize for all: long-term sustainable growth

The team at


If you’re looking to tap the next big global growth markets, you’d better be a woman, or at least be sitting next to one.

Last year, the Business and Sustainable Development Commission outlined the $12 trillion “economic prize” in delivering on the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals to end poverty, boost social well-being and fight climate change.

Now the group is putting a stake in the role of women’s leadership in delivering — and capturing the gains from — the global goals.

“Women are bringing something different to…companies,” Cecily Joseph, a vice president at Symantec, the security software company, told the Business Commission’s researchers. “They are using the global goals as a tool to think about innovation differently, to bring new ideas to the table to help a company.”

To win in the global growth markets of the next 15 years, business leaders need to think long-term, innovate around complex social issues, and collaborate across markets and sectors, according to “Better Leadership, Better World,” the commission’s new report. Short-term profit maximizing, corporate secrecy and environmental negligence isn’t going to cut it in the long-term game of global development and sustainability.

New Report Shows Women's Leadership Can Unlock Major Opportunities Linked to Sustainable Economy

Success in the global arena now takes new levels of corporate openness, action to mitigate climate and environmental risks and a culture of inclusiveness….That is, the core competencies of women in business.

Women occupy just 15% of board seats worldwide, and in the U.S., represent just 5% of CEOs among companies in the S&P 500.

The report cites research that shows women excel at deploying the competencies necessary to tap the economic opportunity represented by the Sustainable Development Goals. Boosting the number of women on managerial teams, for example, has been shown to boost a firm’s ability to innovative, especially around spotting new technologies, business models, products, and services for solving complex societal problems.

Powering potential

Women may be particularly apt to spot ways to overcome barriers to gender equality, an area core not only to SDG №5 but to the entire development agenda. Take financial services. A new report from BNY Mellon and the U.N. Foundation tallies $40 billion in potential new annual revenue from bringing women’s access to financial services to parity with men’s.

That means reaching an additional 254 million women with retail banking services, 79 million with a line of credit, 60 million with loans for education and other expenses, and 19 million with mortgage products, according to the report, “Powering Potential.” Mortgages for Women in Australia, an advisory owned and operated by women, for example, helps women become better financial decision makers, become homeowners or start a business.

Women-run small and growing businesses make up 30% of registered global businesses yet only one in 10 have access to the credit needed to operate and grow. That’s a $285 billion In Nicaragua, Agora Partnerships, a Latin America social-venture accelerator, has partnered with Banco de America Central Nicaragua to test a variable-payment loan program with women-run small businesses.

The insurance opportunity is perhaps the largest. Closing the gender gap in life insurance globally represents an annual market opportunity of $290 billion in revenue. Half the revenue is expected to come from just 10 emerging markets. In India, HDFC’s Life Smart Woman has built a product that specifically covers key events in a woman’s life, including childbirth or the death of her spouse.

The male-dominated investment industry is also poised for a market-grabbing gender disruption. Women control about $20 trillion, or 30% of the world’s assets. That generates about $120 billion of the $415 billion in annual revenues of global investment industry. Key fact: Women are growing their assets 6% faster year-over-year than men.

Firms like Ellevest, a robo-adviser designed for women, run by Sallie Krawcheck, the former CEO of Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s wealth management group, are making inroads with female investors.

Gender lens

How can businesses adopt a gender-lens focus on products and services? Focus on gender diversity in the workplace. “Ensuring that their workforces — from the frontline to the executive team — are more reflective of the consumer market will help bring the diversity of thought and perspective needed to successfully design and deliver financial products to women,” write the authors of Powering Potential.

To grow its pipeline of female board candidates, for example, Symantec eliminated the requirement for board members to have served as a CEO or reported to a CEO.

Investment managers are making it easier to find women-led companies or companies that promote women’s financial inclusion and empowerment. In public equities, nearly two-dozen gender-lens investment vehicles hold more than $910 million. In venture capital, a list gathered by gender lens investing expert Suzanne Biegel and Wharton Social Impact initiative found 58 venture capital funds with $1.3 billion in assets that are betting on women.

On the road to 2030, that’s a good bet.

Women Rising – ImpactAlpha