Women make up one-half of the potential human capital available in any economy and, in many developed and emerging economies, are increasingly as educated as or more educated than men. And yet, women are consistently under-represented in the formal workforce, particularly in leadership positions.

While we have come a long way in our understanding of the economic gender gap in recent years, women are still consistently under-represented in the formal workforce, particularly in leadership positions, and there is a sense that change is taking place very slowly.

There is a strong business case for closing the gender gap. Companies that successfully engage women may reap a rich diversity dividend. With talent shortages projected to become more severe in much of the developed and developing world, maximizing access to female talent is a strategic imperative for business. Additionally, as governments, including those in the EU, consider imposing quotas for women in business leadership, companies cannot afford to be complacent.

The good news is that we have developed tools that allow us to measure these gaps, in both countries and companies. There is mounting research and anecdotal evidence of the business case for gender parity. Certain companies are announcing noteworthy initiatives, while some governments are beginning to set targets.

To encourage and facilitate an active exchange between organizations on what type of interventions are actually delivering results when it comes to closing the gender gap, the World Economic Forum, together with Ernst &Young and other partners, has created a Repository of Successful Practices for closing the gender gap.

The Repository provides a clear set of measures that can be adapted. Interested parties are able to select practices by the type of gap they are trying to address, the type of policy they prefer, and the sector or country they are based in. For example, to address senior management gender gaps, several companies have introduced tailored leadership development programmes among women with high potential. The Repository offers information on several such programmes, how they were implemented, what the success factors and barriers were, what were the observed results in closing the gender gap, and who may be contacted if others want to replicate or learn from the particular practice.

Providing a comprehensive overview of successful practices, the Repository offers companies an exceptional opportunity to learn from and build upon successful interventions implemented elsewhere in order to accelerate their own progress towards gender parity. While this is a work in progress, we hope that this new tool will serve as a hub for sharing new strategies as more companies experiment with gender parity policies.

Author: Saadia Zahidi, Senior Director, Head of the World Economic Forum’s Women Leader and Gender Parity Programme

Pictured: First grade students of “Treinta y Tres Orientales” elementary school in Villa Garcia, a poor neighborhood in the outskirts of Montevideo, use their XO laptop computers in their classroom August 22, 2008. The Uruguay government is implementing the Ceibal project, with the goal of providing one free XO laptop to every public school student in the country. Picture taken August 22, 2008.