As a CEO and someone who teaches young people how to be leaders and entrepreneurs, the relationship between women and business is frequently on my mind -- especially this month.
March is women's month, and I spent last week in Japan, speaking with women about entrepreneurship and the important role they play in growing that country's economy.
Many experts agree that women are Japan's most valuable and untapped resource. According to a report by Goldman Sachs, if women in Japan merely matched the employment rate of men there, Japanese GDP would grow 15%. That would be an enormous economic boost -- roughly twice the size of the entire Japanese auto industry, which includes global employers like Nissan, Toyota and Honda.
Much of the Japanese gender gap is cultural and tied to social expectations of motherhood and family. But the lack of participation by women in business isn't limited to Japan or Japanese companies.
While merely 3.9% of Japanese corporate board members are women, only 12% of American corporate board chairs are occupied by women. In France, it's just 18%. Which means U.S. companies would have to increase the number of women on corporate boards by half just to match France. And that would only get us to 18%.
Just as women will boost the Japanese economy, more women in American boardrooms will work wonders too. That's because having a capable, talented, diverse and experienced board of directors is good business.
And there is good news. There's parity in the entrepreneurship pipeline.
Last school year, my organization, the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship, taught entrepreneurial and business skills to more than 19,000 U.S. high school students -- 52% of whom were girls.
Our entrepreneurship classes are electives, which means students volunteer to take them. So it's encouraging that more than half of the students who raised their hands to learn about business and entrepreneurship were girls.
And according to a report on female entrepreneurship by Babson College, for every woman in the world who stops running her business, 3.2 women start new businesses in the U.S. In Asia, the number is even stronger -- more than six women start new ventures for every woman who shutters one globally.
With more women interested in entrepreneurship and the number of women-led businesses growing in key parts of the world, it won't be long before businesses -- no matter where they are -- will have at least as many women qualified for board seats as men. Perhaps more.
When that happens, it will be impossible for any business to justify a board of directors that misses on gender balance. And that will be a good day for women and business -- regardless of the month.