The debate over gender equality is rife with sensitivity – challenging religious doctrines, cultural beliefs, and social norms. However, is it possible that businesses are holding themselves back from realizing their full potential by not tackling gender equality within their own organizations?

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According to a recent McKinsey study, the importance of gender inequality as an economic issue is far more critical. Presently, women comprise half of the total global workforce, but generate only 37% of the world’s GDP. The report “The Power of Parity: How Advancing Women’s Equality Can Add $12 Trillion to Global Growth” cites, “If women – who account for half the world’s population – do not achieve their full economic potential, the global economy will suffer.”

In fact, the world may be missing out on $28 trillion of additional annual GDP by 2025 if the gender gap is not entirely bridged worldwide. That’s roughly the economies of the United States and China combined!

Gender inequality isn’t just wrong – we’re missing out on $28 trillion because of it

Although achieving gender equality through economic development is a slow process, it does immediately impact the world’s future workforce. It could help 76% of women who are unable to read and/or write, 72% who do not have access to financial inclusion, 60% affected by maternal mortality issues, 58% engaged in child marriage, and 54% disadvantaged by unequal workforce participation rates.

By raising the status of these women, economies that are experiencing a shrinking workforce can tap into a whole new labor market. More important, McKinsey research found that closing the global gender gap could potentially double the growth in global GDP by 2025.

Unless gender equality is seriously addressed and becomes the norm, those economic benefits will go unrealized. The first step is understanding both sides of the gender inequality argument, prioritizing action, and then inspiring and engineering change. And even if you live and operate in a relatively equal society, there is still much work to be done worldwide. Everyone needs to take part.

5 things businesses can do to narrow the gender gap and help the economy grow

In its report, McKinsey suggested five initiatives that can help bridge the gender gap before the global economy completely misses out some much-needed growth:

  1. Financial incentives and support. As governments become more restricted by lower tax revenues and higher costs, companies have an opportunity to incentivize change in social perception of women. Sure, funding scholarship programs and supporting the removal of tax penalties for dual-income households are generous solutions. However, it can also be as simple as taking a common practice and refocusing it. Take The Naning’oi Girls Boarding School project in Kenya, for example. By replacing the tradition of “booking” girls for marriage with booking them for school, parents can pay for their daughter’s education with the traditional dowry of livestock or gifts.
  1. Technology and infrastructure. Believe it or not, investment in physical infrastructure contributes much more than roads and jobs. It creates a sanitary and safe environment that gives girls – and women – an opportunity to learn and work. For example, digital solutions encouraging female entrepreneurship, online education, and emergency assistance reduce gender-based barriers against access to knowledge, income opportunities, and freedom from violence. Plus, infrastructure that delivers energy, clean water, and affordable child care gives women a reason to seek paid work.
  1. Creation of economic opportunity. In addition to education, removing corporate policies that prevent women from fully engaging in the workforce need to be considered. By setting defined goals for diversity at all levels of the organization, companies can structure fair practices for recruitment, flexibility, family leave, leadership training, and sponsorship of women. However, this is only part of the solution. McKinsey’s 2013 Women Matter research also uncovered that nearly 40% of women and 30% of men surveyed view female leadership and communication styles as incompatible with those experienced in the C-suite. This underscores the need for greater acceptance of a range of different work styles. And who knows? It may even help your workforce become more productive and engaged!
  1. Capability development. We all know that ensuring the education of girls and women can yield significant contributions to their lives, communities, and workforce at large. But, did you know that offering life skills and vocational training go beyond talent development? Such programs help women gain greater financial and digital literacy as well as empowering knowledge to reduce teen pregnancy rates and vulnerability to domestic violence. Further, it trains female and male teachers, medical professionals, and law enforcement officers on dealing with gender issues as a part of their job responsibilities.
  1. Advocacy and shaping attitudes. Attitudes and social norms have guided gender equality issues for centuries – making it very tough to budge. By making it a priority within your business and your local and national communities, you can help encourage a dialog that does not disappear when the news cycle changes. Companies can address unconscious gender biases in hiring, retention, and promotion practices while creating a supportive corporate and global culture. Consider Proctor & Gamble’s #SharetheLoad campaign in India. By changing the notion that laundry is women’s work, the company is slowly starting the gender-gap conversation in Indian culture.

Today’s business leaders seem to finally understand their employees are their most important asset. Learn more about Why Companies Should Invest in Revamping Corporate Learning.