A Gender Agenda For Opportunity And Growth

Ending discrimination against women could provide much-needed stimulus to the global economy

A Gender Agenda For Opportunity And Growth

Imagine a policy objective that, if achieved, could double the world’s growth rate over a decade, raising countless millions out of poverty and extending opportunity around the globe. You’d go for it, wouldn’t you?

The objective is equal opportunity for women, with the World Bank estimating that eliminating discrimination against women could increase global gross domestic product by 20% over the next decade. The scale of the impact could promote much-needed economic growth today and cultivate widespread prosperity across all levels of society. “It’s macro critical,” says Rishi Goyal, deputy director and senior adviser on gender at the International Monetary Fund. “It’s good not just for women but for society.” 

Many governments have committed in principle to equal rights for women, but progress has stalled where it truly matters — the day-to-day lives of real people. A new report from the World Bank’s Women, Business and the Law project finds that women on average have less than two-thirds of the legal protections that men have, down from a previous estimate of just over three-quarters. That’s largely because many governments fail to provide the supporting frameworks and resources to enable women to actually exercise the rights they have in law.  

Why women’s representation is an urgent piece of the growth agenda

Nations with higher levels of female political representation have more laws promoting equality and greater participation of women in the workforce, according to an analysis published last year by international advocacy group Women Political Leaders (WPL) and the Oliver Wyman Forum. In many parts of the world, though, women’s limited political influence perpetuates a vicious circle of limited legal rights and economic power.

For example, Women, Business, and the Law notes that while 98 economies mandate equal remuneration for work of equal value, only 35 have pay-transparency or enforcement measures that can make equal pay for women a reality.

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The challenge for growth (and equality) is turning that vicious circle into a virtuous one in which women participate at a higher rate in the political process, gain greater representation — particularly at ministerial and leadership levels — and promote policies that empower women.

Seizing the opportunity 

Getting such a positive dynamic going will require changes in culture and political institutions. Silvana Koch-Mehrin, president and founder of WPL, notes that a hostile environment is driving many women out of politics. A WPL international study of women parliamentarians found that more than 85% experienced psychological violence such as sexist remarks or images, and many received threats of death, rape, or abduction. That may explain why one in six women leave during or just after their first term of office.

By focusing on the economic growth opportunity as a central priority, political institutions could learn some lessons from the private sector, suggests Ana Kreacic, chief operating officer of the Oliver Wyman Forum. Companies aren’t perfect, but most leading ones are asking themselves if they have the right policies and environment to attract and retain the talent they need — both female and male — and are tracking their performance on hiring.

The Oliver Wyman Forum is launching Representation Matters, an initiative with WPL and Women, Business, and the Law. The project will conduct research into female representation in politics and its impact on legal and economic equality between women and men. Working together, we hope to help close the gender gap and unleash the power of opportunity.

Valuing The Human-AI Connection
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The whirlwind of panel discussions, dinners, and face-to-face interactions that define the Milken Institute Global Conference provided a great setting to consider how artificial intelligence-powered machines may change our future. Eighteen months after the shock wave of ChatGPT, the opportunities and challenges of generative AI are becoming clearer. Here are a few themes that stood out from the conversations:

  • Concentrate on results, not hype. Companies are beginning to move beyond discrete use cases for generative AI to launch broader pilots and consider how the technology can transform their businesses in a more fundamental way. It’s important to score early wins with productivity gains in areas like call centers to build comfort with the technology and free up resources for the bigger challenge of developing new products and services. But shifts in mindsets are needed to unleash these greater possibilities, judging by the number of people who compared the benefits of AI to outsourcing.
  • Transformation demands a focus on work, not technology. Many companies have deployed generative AI to speed up tasks in individual departments. The real challenge is collaborating across departments to think deeply about an organization’s current and future work, and reimagining better ways of getting there. That involves deconstructing workflows, deciding what activities AI can take on and where it can assist workers, and making sure you have talent with the right skills to operate in an increasingly machine-enabled environment. For example, attendees heard how some police departments are using AI to monitor multiple closed-circuit camera feeds and alert a human overseer if it detects anomalies that might suggest a crime.
  • Companies need to grapple with the human-AI connection. Generative AI’s conversational abilities will turn most of us into system operators interacting directly with intelligent agents. But human oversight and ability to spot errors becomes less effective as machines take on more and more activities, as experience with vehicle autopilot programs have shown. Companies need to understand the nuances and risks of the work to decide where AI should substitute for human judgment and capability, and where it should augment it. They also will need to develop effective approaches for managing AI assistants as the technology increasingly mimics human creativity.
  • Bring your people along on the journey.  Ninety-eight percent of employees surveyed say they will need training or upskilling in the use of generative AI in the next five years, but only 40% of CEOs share that view. That gap needs to close quickly if companies are to redesign their workflows and get the full benefits of AI. Companies and societies also will need people who can continually reinvent themselves — or learn, unlearn, and relearn, in the words of futurist Alvin Toffler — to prosper in an AI world.

Generative AI is being adopted and sparking change faster than any previous technology, which can be scary. But the conversations at Milken underscored that human insight and connection remain as vital as ever. 

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Uncharted: Insights Off The Beaten Path

Every month, we highlight a key piece of data drawn from three years' worth of consumer research. 

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