International Women's Day is coming up on Saturday 8 March, so I applied with a cross-party group of MPs for a debate in Parliament to promote discussion of women's contribution to the economy. This debate will take place in the afternoon of today, Thursday 6 March in Westminster Hall.
Women's contribution to the economy is particularly topical as the world digs its way out of the global financial crisis, because it is vital if we are to consolidate economic recovery; according to research by the Boston Consulting Group published in September 2013, over the next five years women are forecast to add $6trillion in additional earned income globally. Both genders need to be active in the economy for GDP to grow to its full extent. The Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzō Abe, has said that if Japanese women were fully active in the Japanese economy, the country's GDP would grow by 16%. His target is for 30% of leading positions to be filled by women.
Many large global companies are also committing themselves to employing and enhancing the careers of more women. For example, Coca Cola has pledged to empower five million female entrepreneurs across the world by 2020 through its 5by20 initiative, for example by increasing access to business skills training courses. This is a company which employs 770,000 people directly and 10million people indirectly in the supply chain. Since the initiative launched in 2010, Coca Cola has run programmes in more than 20 countries, including Haiti, Thailand, Liberia and Ethiopia. The empowerment of women in developing countries like this is the key to lifting millions more out of poverty.
The British economy currently has the fastest rate of growth in Europe and the latest figures on female employment have been encouraging. Figures released by the Office of National Statistics in February 2014 show that female employment in the UK is currently at the highest level it has been since records began. The employment rate amongst women has now reached 67.2%, with women accounting for 46% of the UK workforce. In January 2014, figures showed that 20.4% of directors in FTSE 100 companies are now female, compared to just 12.5% in February 2011.
However, there is still much to be done. In a survey of 7,800 women in 13 countries in 2013, the Boston Consulting Group found that many women still feel burdened by a 'triple whammy' of pressures on their time: managing the household, finding time for themselves and juggling too many time commitments. There is still progress that needs to be made to address the gender imbalance in specific occupations. At present, for example, 82% of those employed in caring and leisure occupations are women, compared to just 10% in skilled trade occupations. Britain has been experiencing a renaissance in manufacturing and growth in exports, a sector that has traditionally been very male dominated. The growth in manufacturing has provoked a skill shortage which can, at least in part, be addressed by encouraging more women into engineering and manufacturing jobs. We can inspire change by following the lead of companies such as Jaguar Land Rover, which runs a 'Young Women in the Know' programme to encourage more women to consider careers in manufacturing and engineering. There have already been some encouraging signs in education. For example, 20% of applications to the University Technical College in Warwick for engineering are from young women, compared to approximately 8 per cent for the national average.
Women do make a vital contribution to the global economy, and International Women's Day is an important opportunity to raise awareness of this and how the female economy is the key to a sustainable future.