Last week, I had the opportunity to speak at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), the leading Asia-Pacific economic forum. Established in 1989, APEC is comprised of 21 member economies, including the United States, and works to fosters growth and prosperity by facilitating economic cooperation and expanding trade and investment throughout the region. Building on the momentum of the first Women’s Entrepreneurship Summit, that was hosted by the United States and Japan in Gifu last year, I was happy to talk about the importance of promoting economic growth by helping women overcome barriers to starting, building, and growing their own businesses.
It is clear that women, who are now half of the work force in the world, play an indispensible role in the U.S. and global economies. Today, there are more than 200 million women entrepreneurs worldwide. In the United States alone, women owned businesses generate more than $1.2 trillion in annual revenues, and worldwide women earn more than $10 trillion every year. In the developing world, 40 percent to 50 percent of businesses are women owned, and tend to grow faster than those owned by men. And over the past decade, in the United States women entrepreneurs have created businesses at twice the rate of men. Research indicates that increasing female employment rates would have significant implications for the global economy, boosting American gross domestic product (GDP) by as much as 9 percent, Eurozone GDP by 13 percent, and Japanese GDP by 16 percent. Research also suggests, that women’s contribution to corporate performance through decision making, and product and service design often leads to increased stability and profitability.
At the local level, women also have the most pronounced impact on their countries’ economies by increasing productivity, local savings, and investment rates, and by strengthening local communities. Studies show that women are more likely to purchase goods for their household and specifically for their children, including food, healthcare, education, clothing and personal-care products— key factors in strengthening and securing communities.
It is clear that investing in women is an important strategy for job creation and economic growth, but the pool of talented women is still underutilized, underpaid, and underrepresented in business and society.
That is why over the past two and a half years, the Obama Administration has placed an emphasis on implementing policies that empower women to realize their full economic potential. Not only is it the right thing to do, but it is vital for our economic recovery and competitiveness. The Administration has looked at issues from workplace flexibility to wage inequality, and taken action by passing the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and supporting the passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act. The Administration has also expanded small business lending though the Small Business Administration. During the last two and a half years, SBA has made over $5.78 billion in loans to almost 25,000 women business owners, and promulgated new regulations to enhance federal contract opportunities for women owned businesses. Last year alone, the U.S. government purchased more than $3.9 billion in goods and services from women owned businesses, and counseled more than 150,000 entrepreneurs through the expanded network of Women Business Centers.
I believe the Administration’s focus on women’s economic power resonates around the world, and that is why the United States has been enjoying valued international cooperation. We have been working with governments to prioritize the resources to increase women’s opportunities, and working with leaders to make sure that the inclusion of women becomes a smart growth strategy across the globe. This includes at APEC, where I look forward to continuing to work to promote the growth of women’s participation in our economies with government officials and private sector leaders from around the world at the Women and the Economy Summit in San Francisco this September hosted by the United States.
As nearly 50 percent of the U.S. workforce, women are in a position to drive our 21st century economy. Unleashing women's economic potential and closing the gender gap in economic participation is the best prescription for economic growth in the United States, in the Asia-Pacific region, and around the world because we know we cannot win the future unless our entire workforce is empowered.
Tina Tchen is Assistant to the President, Chief of Staff to the First Lady and Executive Director of the White House Council on Women and Girls