Sunday, 10 April 2011

the status of women

I was at a meeting yesterday with a group of women ~ and one man ~ who all want to make a difference to the status of women. We came together to discuss how our mission could both be different and make a real difference.

As we engaged with one another, I realised there were a variety of agendas on the table that all had to do with the status of women and that all need addressing. A tall task indeed. 

Of course the UN has been reporting on the Status of Women for many years. Perhaps that is part of the problem? Reporting informs us that we are far from equal in this world. It does not necessarily link to action by and for women.
Many of the people around the table work or worked within corporate structures in one way or another and are seeking to influence change on a corporate level. Create more equity and recognition of their contribution to the workplace.  What they are really saying is that they wish to move towards a more feminized way of doing business ~ not that we were discussing this as a conscious theme or mode of being.  

Listening to the women around the table I couldn't help thinking of the women I've met during my travels, the indigenous, migrant and otherwise disenfranchised women who don't fit in the formal economy. They very much form part of what is known as the informal economy. The WorldBank estimates that 23.9 million people are employed in the informal economy vs. a 15.1 million labour force in the formal economy and more than 60% are women. These  are the women who contribute more to GDP than India and China combined (The Economist, 2010) ~ a concept sometimes referred to as Womenomics, which to some means women are good for business. In my book it means The science of understanding, supporting and linking women more effectively in the economy ~ wherever that may be.

Two very different pictures but it is clear that a change on the corporate level is as direly needed as a change in the informal economy. Both are a source of employment for women. Both are employing more women than ever, both deal with a gender gap in terms of equal worth and wages ~ although the gender gap in terms of wages in the informal economy is of course much higher than in the formal sector.

While women in corporate structures cope with unequal pay and 'boys club' conditions, women in informal economies haven't even had much of an opportunity to start the argument. Yet, while developed regions with 'formal' economies may be in a better position to fight the fights, it is the less developed regions that ~ due to sheer number of women ~ are more rapidly moving towards female critical mass in their workforce and, dare I say, to feminized markets. 

It is critical mass that will create the tipping point, as is the case with the adoption of any new technology or innovation. Just think, there were early adopters of the Internet ~ yours truly among them ~ but it wasn't until Internet use achieved critical mass that people really started to adopt it fast and understand its usefulness. Today adoption is not even at the tipping point so its potential remains in its infancy.  And of course there remain many technology adoption laggards for a variety of reasons ~ access, skills, culture ~ but that gap is closing with the rise and rise of mobile technology. There is no doubt that connectivity will be increasingly important to the status of women as it continues to connect women to knowledge and networks.

So I came away from the meeting thinking how good it was that we do all have different agendas, as they all do need attention and work. It will be interesting to see how all the agendas can be married into a meaningful effort. 

Stay tuned..

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