Delivering Women: Establishing Full Equality
Pam Sornson, JD
The battle to achieve fundamental human respect and equality isn’t limited to women. People of color, religious communities, those who are differently-abled, and many other marginalized populations continue to suffer from the injustices and inequities embedded in global social and political systems. Yet, despite the apparent challenges within their society, many communities fail to address these problems, believing them to be insurmountable or, worse, unimportant. The reality is that any level of inequity or inequality in an organized association erodes that whole community’s capacity to achieve its highest potential.
Exclusion is Expensive
When a percentage of the population is unable to offer its value but instead is compelled to draw resources from the greater community for survival, then even its wealthiest members suffer unnecessary social and economic losses. That’s the conclusion drawn by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis in its recent report, The Economic Gains from Equity. The authors evaluated data from the Current Population Survey that estimated America could add over $25 trillion in gross domestic product gain over the next 30 years by eliminating disparities that impede personal progress and community economic growth. The report’s findings mirror those offered by other notable global entities that have drawn similar conclusions regarding the connection between achieving equity and maximizing economic development.
The conclusion is not new, either. In 2016, the Altarum Institute and Kellogg Foundation released their joint dissertation making the Business Case for Racial Equity, which describes several economic and fiscal benefits that flow from closing the wealth and earnings gap between whites and ethnic minorities. In addition to generating higher total earnings for all workers – male and female – a more diverse workforce receiving equitable resources would also:
boost long-term economic growth,
increase tax revenues for both state and federal coffers, and
reduce the number of people requiring social safety services.
Inclusion Increases Incomes
The challenge now is to determine a strategy to achieve this level of equity and then execute it to pursue these economic goals. Analysts at PolicyLink suggest that communities adopt an intention of achieving “economic inclusion” by connecting vulnerable populations to new jobs while ensuring that those occupations provide the wages and benefits to support both a family unit and community-wide economic growth.
They identify four’ inclusion tools’ capable of moving the initiative forward:
Adjusting local and regional hiring policies and practices to engage women and minority workers and rewarding those entities that implement them.
Use government resources to develop and support minority and woman-owned enterprises, then contract with those companies to embed them into the community’s economic foundation.
Set living-standard wage and benefits rules to ensure all workers earn the value they represent, not just get paid what the market has established for their role or occupation. This strategy directly responds to the inequities revealed by the pandemic, when those workers deemed ‘essential’ to the economy were also typically the lowest-paid employees of the community.
Pour all necessary resources into the development of a well-trained and skilled workforce. The COVID-19 crisis eliminated thousands of jobs while creating a demand for thousands more new occupations. The emerging labor force does not yet have the tools or skills to perform these new roles. Societies looking to build a better future can invest in the resources needed to provide the training and education to ensure they have the employees needed to perform these new occupations.
Other entities, too, have weighed in on how to raise and empower marginalized workers. For example, UNWomen is an organization within the United Nations that champions gender equality for all women and girls, which, by definition, includes females of all colors, religions, and abilities. Notably, countries that follow the organization’s recommendations for empowering women see benefits across their whole population.
This group looks specifically at the barriers and obstacles women face in their everyday lives that impede their capacity to work, earn, and care for themselves. If successfully executed, its recommendations to remove these challenges would also unleash the economic value millions of women could contribute to their communities:
Invest in care services. Women perform the vast majority of global caregiving and caretaking services, and a large percentage of those efforts go uncompensated. One entity estimates that the annual value of these resources tops $1.5 trillion. The statistic demonstrates a double hardship for women: not only do they not get paid for their time or labor, but the men who are not doing this work are then free to manage their time and earn more money because they have no comparable obligation.
Ensure funding for women’s organizations. In many regions of the world, the ‘women’s society’ provides a safety net for females that governments have not yet established. Too few resources, however, erode their capacity to provide the quality services women and girls deserve.
Protect women’s health. Poor healthcare systems for women cause multiple economic woes for both them and their communities, yet many societies continue to erode the few that are (or were) already in existence. The World Economic Forum estimates that a $300 million investment in woman-focused research could yield a $13 billion return by enhancing the gender’s productivity and longevity.
Support women’s leadership at all levels of government and throughout society. Women appear to be more attuned and sensitive to environmental issues, and countries with more women holding elected office have adopted stricter climate policies than those with predominantly male governing bodies.
Imagine the social and economic gains that could be achieved if these recommendations were applied to all groups of people.
The conclusion to be drawn from these circumstances, theories, and realities is that empowering everyone to contribute to their community to the best of their ability also empowers that community to achieve its highest potential. At this critical, pivotal moment in history, it may (finally) be possible to strategize a plan to achieve that goal.