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Delivering the power of parity

by Vivian Hunt—Last week I was fortunate to join Women Deliver for its global conference in Copenhagen. Described as the biggest international development conference on women's and girls' rights and health in a decade, it was a great opportunity to share and test our latest research about how a more gender-equal society can promote a more gender-equal economy.

The discussion paper we launched at the conference builds on research published last year by McKinsey Global Institute (MGI), our economics think tank, which estimated a potential uplift to the global economy of $12 trillion in 2025 from narrowing the gender gap in the world of work.

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From L to R: Anu Madgavkar, Valerie Amos, Graça Machel, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and Vivian Hunt at a UN Foundation Board Dinner hosted by the Crown Princess of Denmark.

We learned two big things from our new research. The first is that the $12 trillion prize is achievable. In the discussion paper, we highlight six priority areas for action and investment: education, family planning, maternal health, financial inclusion, digital inclusion, and assistance with unpaid care. Second, the investment will be well worth it. We estimate that between $1 trillion and $2 trillion in incremental spending will be required across the six areas. That’s a return of six to eight times.

The topic of unpaid care and domestic work is an important lever for closing the gender gap, in both developing countries and advanced economies. I spent 2 years living and working as a midwife in Senegal with the Peace Corps, the volunteer program run by the US government. I’ve seen how simple things like providing clean water and preparing the home for the day can take so much time for women and girls. In a different context, in a leading global city like London, where I live now, I see the trade-offs that parents make on parental leave in order to do the best for their families.

In order to deliver the $12 trillion potential economic gain, we estimate that between 29 million to 57 million women, and an equivalent number of men, will need to be covered by paid family leave to enable women to work outside the home if they want to.

Education is another key area. In Copenhagen I took part in a talk show alongside Helle Thorning-Schmidt, the former Danish prime minister and current CEO of Save the Children. She talked about the importance of the progression of women from early childhood through education into work. To raise enrolment rates in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goals, 58 million more girls and 60 million more boys need access to secondary education.

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Melinda Gates and Vivian Hunt

Since 2007, our ‘Women Matter’ research has explored the role women play in the global workplace, and gender equality is a major research topic for MGI. So it was great to be part of the conversation in Copenhagen with some of the key global voices on gender, including Melinda Gates, Graça Machel (minister of education and culture in Mozambique and widow of Nelson Mandela), Valerie Amos (former British politician and diplomat and UN undersecretary general) and Catherine M Russell (US ambassador-at-large for global women's issues). Anu Madgavkar, the MGI partner who led our latest research, was also at the conference and presented our findings in more detail.

For me, the research validates what many of us instinctively believe to be true: in addition to the moral imperative, there could be a substantial economic return on investment if we deliver gender parity. We have a huge opportunity to unlock the potential of women, in society and in the economy. In the words of Women Deliver: “When the world invests in girls and women, everybody wins.”