When a friend shared this Nike Foundation video on Facebook recently, I DARE YOU , I watched it and wept. As parents, we’re raising the little girls who will change the world, and the boys who will marry them. We’re their custodians, holding their hands as they cross into a 21st century world so very different — and quite likely so very much better — than the 20th century reality that brought them here. We sell them short to simply teach them what we learned, because in their world, they hold power — and face challenges — that we could never have imagined.
In its recent article, Women Will Rule the World, Newsweek confirmed the age-old saying that women control the purse strings. Literally. First in the US and many European countries, then more recently in the BRIC nations (Brazil, Russia, India & China) and in other pockets of the planet, the rapid rise of female economic power is staggering and transformative.
Maddy Dychtwald boils it down to compelling, hard numbers in her book, Influence, released a few months ago. “American women are responsible for 83% of all consumer purchases; they hold 89% of US bank accounts, 51% of all personal wealth, and are worth more than $5 trillion in consumer spending power — larger than the entire Japanese economy. On a global level, women are the biggest emerging market in the history of the planet — more than twice the size of India and China combined.”
Closely linked to this economic power, of course, is education. The Women’s Learning Partnership estimates that for every year beyond fourth grade girls attend school, a country’s wages rise by 20%. Stop and think about that for a moment. Twenty percent for each year of education after 4th grade!
The trickle-down of this economic power is where it gets really good. With women controlling the purse strings, what funding areas become more critical? Does defense spending share top billing with childcare, healthcare and education? Does quality of life compete with GDP? Does the little nation of Bhutan, with it’s commitment to “gross national happiness” (GNH) show the rest of the world how to really succeed?
Chip Conley, the hotel entrepreneur from San Francisco, weaves it all together quite nicely in his TED presentation, Measuring What Makes Life Worthwhile. He points back to one of Robert F. Kennedy’s 1968 speeches, where he opines that we count the wrong stuff. Our GDP counts air pollution, redwoods destruction, and nuclear warheads, but doesn’t count health of our kids, our quality of education, or the intelligence of our public debate. Perhaps it’s time for a new way to count, he suggested. Conley goes on to remind us that, prior to the young king of Bhutan suggesting GNH as a national metric, the last world leader to invoke “happiness” as a viable government measure was Thomas Jefferson, in that bold, pesky Declaration of Independence.
With new metrics to measure life’s intangibles, coupled with the transformative power of women stepping to the economic plate, the 21st century offers hope, promise and possibility so different from it’s 20th century cousin. Imagine a world where our daughters realize their aspirations, and our sons don’t feel compelled to shoulder the economic burden alone. Imagine their world, where going into the world to do “good” is on equal footing with doing “well.”
Those of us with kids in college, we’re the women who fought the mommy wars. To work or not to work. What was best for us, our families, and of course, our children? As with so many things, our competitive juices flowed, and a tangible, visceral struggle ensued to determine which mommy team was better. Could we really raise our kids and bring home the bacon? Were stay-at-home moms sending the best message to their young daughters about their potential, their place in the world? And single, working moms? Just the thought led to head shaking and furrowed brows from all fronts. If you’re nodding, it’s because you remember the heated debates, countless magazine copy, and endless talking heads, the “experts” on the topic. (If you’re nodding, it also means you remember the big hair and those awful “business suits” we wore. But that’s another post for another time.)
Maybe its just me, but it seems we’ve moved on, put that issue behind us and concluded — as our moms before us and women throughout history — that as women, we can and will do what’s best for our families, whatever that may be.
And in doing that, we make the world a better place.