January 23, 2009 posted by Shyama Venkateswar, Kyla Bender-Baird, and Lisa Rast The room was filled to capacity at Demos’  latest panel for their Women’s Leadership Initiative. Women (and a few men) from all sectors joined together to discuss gender equality as an investment concept. Anne Black from Goldman Sachs discussed their 10,000 Women initiative . The driving idea behind this timely initiative is that investing in women’s business skills is the fastest way to grow GDP. Joe Keefe from Pax World Mutual Fund, which recently took over Pax’s Women’s Equity Fund , argued that gender equality should be framed as an investment imperative, not a moral one. In fact, gender equality helps to grow the bottom line. Finally, Ritu Sharma, co-founder of Women Thrive Worldwide , demonstrated the importance of building crucial infrastructure to aid women across the globe, who otherwise spend much of their day gathering water and fuel, and caregiving.
All the panelists provided compelling research:
- Companies with more women on their board of directors outperform those without by at least 53% 
- Closing the male-female employment gap could boost the United State’s GDP by 9% 
- Building fuel and water infrastructure in countries such as Uganda would free up 900 hours of labor  (equivalent to 6 months) for women
Bottom line: investing in women works! Those who work on international development have steadily shown that investing in women is a win-win situation. Unfortunately, the United States lags behind much of the world in implementing such an investment. According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, the United States has fallen in the past ten years from 47th to 71st in terms of women’s political representation . In the industrialized world, the U.S. ranks 31st . We definitely have our work cut out for us! But given the energy and passion of everyone at the panel, we remain optimistic. --Shyama Venkateswar, PhD, is the Director of Research and Programs; Kyla Bender-Baird is the Research and Programs Coordinator; Lisa Rast is the Development Coordinator