The UN has set an expiration date: by 2030 inequality between men and women must be a thing of the past.

At the rate we are going, if nothing is done to accelerate the move towards gender equality, we won't have "Planet 50-50 until 2095, according to UN Women.

Women just won the right to vote in Saudi Arabia, but still aren't allowed to drive. In Pakistan there are 2.1 million child brides and only 31% of girls are enrolled in high school. Women are trafficked as sex slaves and gang raped. One in three women worldwide is sexually assaulted in her lifetime.

And in business we still have a glass ceiling: women are not reaching leadership positions, or equal pay.

Some European countries, starting with Norway and Spain, have set minimum quotas for gender balance in boards of directors of publicly traded companies. Equality at the highest level should help fix the problem elsewhere.

In the US we shy away from an affirmative action approach because that would clash with our free market philosophy where hard-working individuals pull themselves up by their bootstraps, competing on equal footing.

The thing is, we don't have equal footing. Why, in the US, do we have so many smart female students, yet fewer than one in five engineering students are women? The recent "Run like a girl" ad by Always captured part of the problem: only the youngest girls, even here in the US, feel equal to boys. As we grow up, our confidence falters and we slip into centuries-old roles.

Here are a few reasons we should reverse this trend:

1. Diversity produces better thinking. "Studies have shown that more diverse and inclusive teams consistently produce more accurate and successful solutions to complex situations and are less likely to make significant mistakes than homogenous teams," reports noceilings.org. Noceilings.org is a project by the Clinton Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation which aims to collect all the data it can on gender gap issues.

2. It's the economy, stupid: why in the world would any economy decide to underuse half its talent? If we want a wealth-producing economy, we should naturally fill every position with the brightest and best. Of course, we also want to ensure that children grow up with effective parenting, so we should enable that by making paternity and maternity leave the norm. The US is one of only nine countries worldwide that doesn't offer paid maternity leave.

3. Human rights: Hillary Clinton famously said "Human rights are women's rights; women's rights are human rights." Across the world, there are too many human rights violations and we must stand up against them. As businesses, we can use our power to work for human rights.

4. Peace: Economic development leads to a more peaceful society. In the developing world it is often women entrepreneurs who are able to raise their families out of poverty. Again, business has the power and the resources to help this process by encouraging sustainable development and women's entrepreneurship.

Let's not wait for 2095, or even 2030. Let's get to work now.

Published on: Mar 12, 2015
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