In their recent interview with Alice Andors for HR Magazine (“Hidden in Plain Sight” January 2012), economist Sylvia Ann Hewlett and executive vice president of the Center for Talent Innovation Ripa Rashid postulated that there is a direct correlation between the education and corporate advancement of a country’s female workforce and the country’s economic growth. They specifically pointed out that the so-called BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, and China), whose combined markets have accounted for forty-five percent of global economic growth since 2007, have this very thing in common. These countries are educating their young women at higher rates than they ever have before and they have outpaced the United States in the percentage of senior management positions held by women.
According to Hewlett, in 2009 Brazilian women held thirty percent of executive positions compared to the twenty percent held by women in the United States. Likewise, women hold thirty-two percent of senior management positions in China. In the United States only twenty-three percent of senior management positions are held by women.
There is, however, a dark side to the professional success of women in these countries. According to Rashid’s research, women working in management positions in the BRIC countries commonly put in over sixty hours a week. Highly qualified Chinese women employed by global companies work an average of seventy-one hours a week, while Russian women in senior positions put in seventy-three hours a week.
The emphasis on work-life balance here in the United States may be holding some women back from making the same strides as their ambitious counterparts in BRIC countries. At the same time, taking steps to enable and encourage more young American women to pursue degrees in the science, technology, engineering, and math (the STEM fields facing a shortage of qualified employees) and encouraging the promotion of deserving women into senior and executive management positions could spur economic growth here at home.