Looking at my fellow Davos attendees, I see women who lead, impact their professional and personal communities, and motivate young leaders. They contribute invaluable perspectives to the companies, academic institutions, governments and social organisations they represent, as well as to the conversations at Davos. They make a difference.

To stay competitive means having the right people in leadership who can anticipate opportunities, stay a step ahead of the issues and achieve results. Organisations that overlook half of the world’s population overlook half of the world’s talent.

This is where gender parity comes into play, and why we have the opportunity to put it at the forefront of the global agenda.

Full talent pool

In the business world, companies that hold leadership accountable, create diverse boards, develop inclusive cultures and apply targeted recruitment and retention policies are more successful. They win more when they take advantage of the full pool of talent, and develop and promote all qualified leaders.

Achieving gender parity has far broader implications than simply winning business:

  • For corporates: FORTUNE 500 companies with the greatest representation of women in management positions delivered a return to shareholders 34% higher than for companies with the lowest representation.
  • For economies: Closing the disparity between male and female employment would have huge economic implications for the global economy, boosting United States gross domestic product by as much as 9%, Eurozone GDP by 13% and Japanese by 16%, according to Goldman Sachs.
  • For society and the public: Educated, healthy women are likely to have healthier and more educated children, creating a virtuous cycle for any community or country. When the number of women involved in political decision-making reaches a critical mass, their decisions – which take into account the needs of a wider segment of society – lead to more inclusive results, as shown in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2014.

Yet, women are not favourably represented at the board level in any industry. They make up just 26% of board executives in the food and beverage industries, 21% in the financial sector and 15% in real estate. I take pride in serving as the chairman of the board of directors in an underrepresented industry, real estate, where two of my nine fellow board members are women. Global organisations, such as the 30% Club, target female representation at the board level by setting benchmarks and timelines. Launched in 2010, this organisation challenged companies to have 30% women in leadership roles. While currently seeing 23% representation, up from 12.6% in 2010, we aren’t there yet – and shouldn’t stop at 30%.

Reflect the world’s diversity

As Professor Klaus Schwab said in the Forum’s 2014 Global Gender Gap Report, to accelerate the pace of change, we must be consistent in measuring progress, rigorous in identifying solutions, and collaborative in our actions. Companies need to create workplaces where the best talent can thrive. Business, civil society, educational institutions, public figures and media all are also critical in empowering women while engaging men in the process.

We have the opportunity to continue moving the needle by establishing processes that attract top female and diverse talent, and retain and promote them. To attract the best people, we need to cast a wide net and forget divisions of gender, race, age and sexual orientation – or any other label. To compete effectively, we need to reflect the diversity of the world in which we live and work. Making progress in the business community will positively impact the broader economic environment.

Author: Sheila Penrose is the Chairman of the Board at JLL, a financial and professional services firm specialising in commercial real estate services and investment management.

Image: Thailand’s Prime Minister-elect Yingluck Shinawatra meets with her economic team at the Puea Thai Party’s headquarters in Bangkok July 6, 2011. REUTERS/Sukree Sukplang