Source: Financial Gazette
This instalment is dedicated to all women on account of International Women's Day (IWD) which is held annually on March 8.

According to their website (, IWD is now an official holiday in Afghanistan, Armenia, Azer-baijan, Belarus, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, China (for women only), Cuba, Georgia, Guinea-Bissau, Eritrea, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Madagascar (for women only), Moldova, Mongolia, Mont-enegro, Nepal (for women only), Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Ukr-aine, Uzbekistan, Vietnam and Zambia.

Interestingly, Zimbabwe wh-ose population is dominated by women at 52 percent, is still to make IWD a national holiday. Year on year IWD is increasing in status with the United States even designating the whole month of March as "Women's History Month". In Zimbabwe, two events in Binga and Mutoko were slated to mark IWD but there was muted silence in Zimbabwe's corporate corridors on focused activities to observe IWD.

While a lot of progress has been made since 1900 to improve the conditions of women across the globe, a lot more still needs to be done to ensure that they participate fully in all sectors of the economy including leadership. This article tracks latest thinking from McKinsey & Company on what needs to be done to unlock the full potential of women in the global economy. It draws on research findings from McKinsey's fourth Women Matter study (2009) which provides focused analysis on how to achieve gender diversity at top management level.

While McKinsey & Company undertook the research to understand how women contribute to the US economy; how their work benefits individual corporations; what prevents women from making greater contributions to their companies; and what approaches can help companies unlock the full potential of women, their findings have relevance to women in almost any country and are thus useful in shaping policies which seek to enhance gender diversity in countries like Zimbabwe.

The country is still grappling to meet The Southern African Development Community (SADC) Protocol on Gender and Development which seeks to give women equal representation in all decision making positions despite it being signatory to the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women and the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action and the African Union Protocol on African Women's Rights.

At macro level in any country, there is significant potential to raise the labour participation rates of women while at corporate level including government and politics there exist an opportunity to continue to advance women into leadership positions where they can make the greatest contributions.

Yet achieving just that is a complex and difficult challenge in view of numerous barriers that remain. In order to best understand the argument for unlocking women potential in national economies, McKinsey & Company analysed research findings on the link between women and economic growth at macro level and the link between women and corporate health at corporate level and their findings are discussed below.

McKinsey & Com-pany note between 1970 and 2009, the share of women holding jobs in the US increased from 37 percent to 48 percent which translated into an increase in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of 25 percent over the same period. The growth of GDP in a country can be attributed to workforce expansion and a burst of productivity driven by innovation and operational improvements. This means that women have a key role to play in both contexts if countries are to achieve economic growth.

Within the context of workforce expansion, the McKinsey study recommends that there is need to bring more women into the workforce. In the case of the US, the study notes that efforts are required to raise the participation rate of women in the economy from the current 76 percent to an ideal 84 percent which compares favourably with Swe-den whose women participation rate stands at 87 percent. Doing so would add three to four percent to the size of the US economy. On the other hand, the participation rate of women in Zimbabwean politics stands at only 22,2 percent.

Within the context of enhancing productivity, the McKinsey study recommends fully tapping the talent of high-skill women and training women for the most productivity enhancing jobs. Our universities and tertiary institutions need to create more opportunities for young women to acquire degrees.

In Zimbabwe, the Midlands State University can be counted as one institution which has done a lot in ensuring young women get enrolled in university through its ground-breaking gender diversity policies.

Women can also contribute to the productivity challenge by training in disciplines with impact on increasing productivity, such as finance, professional services, and science and technology.

National educational policies should be women-friendly to avoid drop-out of female students and ensuring sound prep-aration of women in Science and Mathe-matics.

On the link between women and corporate performance, the 2009 Mc-Kinsey Women Mat-ter global survey on gender diversity highlighted the link between the characteristics of women leaders and organisational health. These findings were corroborated by another McKinsey Organisational Health Index (OHI) study which found that companies with three or more women in top positions (executive committee and higher) scored higher than their peers. OHI measures nine factors, ranging from external orientation to coordination and control, which are linked to well-functioning organisations.

According to McKinsey, companies that score highly on all nine metrics of organisational health have also shown superior financial performance.

On the on the relationship between the representation of women on boards of directors and corporate performance, a separate research by Catalyst (2011) found a 26 percent difference in return on invested capital (ROIC) between the top-quartile companies (with 1944 percent women board representation) and bottom quartile companies (with zero woman directors).

Yet despite all this empirical evidence pointing to the positive benefits of enhanced women participation in the economy, they still remain outside leadership positions at both the national and corporate levels. McKinsey & Company identify a group of four barriers to enhanced women participation and these barriers are useful in crafting effective solutions to gender diversity.

The main barriers are: structural obstacles such as lack of access to informal networks where they can make important connections, a lack of female role models higher up in the organisation, and a lack of sponsors to provide opportunities, which many male colleagues have; lifestyle issues chiefly women's concerns about the always-on 24/7 executive lifestyle and travel requirements; imbedded institutional mindsets in which women are often evaluated for promotions primarily on performance, while men are often promoted on potential; and imbedded individual mindsets which focuses on the effect of women's own mindsets such as the proven fact that as women get older, their desire to move to the next level dissipates faster than men's desire.

In conclusion, women have an important role to play in the economic development discourse of any country and as the nation reflects on the import of International Women's Day, we need to start thinking of ways of manifesting the role of women in leadership and the economy at large.

We need to find ways of addressing the barriers to attaining this goal of gender diversity.

The author is a principal consultant at Global Workforce Solutions (Pvt) Ltd.


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