Booz and company have dubbed them the Third Billion, referring to the number of women from around the world who will be economically active by 2020. My own daughter will be among them. First and Second Billion positions have been secured already by China and India. And it's safe to assume that growth in these two economies has helped to accelerate the emergence of the Third Billion. Investments and priority setting to improve survival and development outcomes for girls in developing country settings have also contributed to the growing number of women who will soon be economically active.
In anticipation of the spike, it helps to look back over the past 50 years to understand the barriers to women's full participation in the economy to ensure we maximize the opportunity as it presents itself, to support their participation.
Who are these women?
Booz and company have grouped non-participating women of the past into three categories, those who were not prepared (didn't have the education to do so), those who were not enabled because of culture or the absence of supportive social policy, and those who were affected by a combination of both categories.
The dis-enabled culture of women includes those for whom the absence of good quality, universal and affordable childcare has been a barrier. If women are to be supported, then childcare needs to be fixed. Creating an enabling environment going forward will require a commitment to making good quality, universally accessible childcare a priority and resourcing it adequately. Public and private sector interventions will be forced to emerge.
A 2008 study by UNICEF looking at the performance of Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) benchmarks in 25 OECD countries found that only six countries met eight out of the ten benchmarks; Sweden being the only country to meet all 10. Canada and Ireland tied dead last, meeting only one of the benchmarks while the US met three. Benchmarks included the existence of a National Childcare Plan, subsidized and regulated childcare for 25% of children under the age of three and 1.0 % of GDP spent on early childhood services.
An earlier study from 2004 conducted by the OECD, and based on 21 of its member countries revealed that in Canada only 20% of children benefitting from childcare could be found in licensed facilities, while in Denmark, 70% of all children in childcare were being cared for by licensed facilities.
Evidence supporting investments in ECCE go undisputed with the RoI ranging from 2:1 in a Canadian study which looked at the long term savings (better educational outcomes, less criminality, improved mental health) to a US study by Cornell University which pointed to an RoI of 13:1 when additional economic driver attributes (increased revenue injected into the economy by participating women, higher GDP, increased tax revenue) were included with the investment.
Advocacy campaigns in OECD countries to increase the number of spaces dedicated to childcare, to improve the training of professionals, their licensing and regulation, as well as the facilities from where they work, have fallen upon deaf ears and remain unchanged. Far too many children continue to be cared for by unqualified childcare providers, in unlicensed facilities.
The double dividend? When you invest in childcare, you benefit from improved outcomes for children, as well as for women.
A good CSR strategy will recognize the benefits of the childcare investment, particularly where Governments are failing. One US study found that employers who support childcare have improved employee morale, a lower turnover and absentee rate and increased productivity when compared to companies of similar size and scope which do not support childcare. This same study showed that an on-site daycare service saved one company $138,000 to $232,000 in annual operating costs, due to the reduction in both turnover and absenteeism.
Your insight into the challenges and opportunities of the double dividend in expanding the reach of the conversation are most welcome!
Up next, the international childcare transition: implications for global business investments.
photo credit: Alissa Plant Empress Tarot Art 2008