In recent years, investing in women has become more than inspiring rhetoric or good PR for a company. It’s now becoming a core business strategy yielding quantifiable returns. As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton explained at an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in 2011, to “achieve the economic expansion we all seek, we need to unlock a vital source of growth that can power our economies in the decades to come.” By “increasing women’s participation in the economy and enhancing their efficiency and productivity,” the secretary said, “we can have a dramatic impact on the competitiveness and growth of our economies.”
These dividends come in part as a result of the growing economic influence wielded by women. In the United States, women control or influence more than 80 percent of purchasing decisions. Globally they are responsible for $20 trillion in spending, a figure expected to rise to $28 trillion by 2014. Goldman Sachs has found that it is women who are redefining markets and creating growth by focusing their spending power on purchases such as food, health care, education, clothing, consumer durables, and financial services. And, according to a Deloitte study, women’s earning power is growing faster than men’s in the developing world, where their earned incomes have increased by 8.1 percent compared with men’s 5.8 percent. As Muhtar Kent, the CEO of Coca-Cola, recently stated, “The truth is that women are already the most dynamic and fastest-growing economic force in the world today.”
More and more companies are doing the math and investing in what Booz & Co. has dubbed the Third Billion—women globally—a market segment large enough to rival China or India. The early corporate leaders focused on philanthropic and corporate social-responsibility (CSR) initiatives and have been in industries that market specifically to women: consumer packaged goods and retail and fashion-related companies. The Body Shop and Aveda created significant philanthropies for women and girls, and the Nike Foundation launched its Girl Effect movement, while Liz Claiborne focused on violence-prevention efforts. Many companies donated heavily to breast-cancer research and prevention.