Could sexist data be skewing the research when it comes to women in the workforce?
That’s the theory espoused by Melinda Gates during a recent presentation for the Women Deliver conference in Copenhagen. Because of the lack of data on things like intimate partner violence and women’s contributions to the economy in areas where organizations like the Gates Foundation work, researchers and economists aren’t getting a clear picture of just how important women are in business.
To bring things up to speed, the Gates Foundation is pouring $80 million over the next three years into collecting more accurate data about women in economies around the world.
“The hard reality is that in too many areas, data still doesn’t exist. And often, where it does exist, it’s sexist,” Gates said. “It misses women and girls entirely, or undercounts and undervalues their economic and social contributions.”
Current data collection methods in many countries focus solely on what happens outside the home. That means women who work at home—raising children, running side businesses, subsistence farming—are essentially invisible.
But when attention is paid to these activities, women miraculously become a huge part of the economy. When surveys in Uganda began counting these activities, the countrywide workforce “magically” increased by 700,000 people, according to Gates. This sort of work, according to a 2015 McKinsey report, is worth $10 trillion annually.
Assigning monetary value to this work and putting together empowerment programs that help them develop economically viable skills will be no easy task, but the Gates Foundation and its partners are determined to see it through. “The assumption is ‘it’s hard and it’s expensive,’” said Emily Courey Pryer, senior director of Data2X, one of the Gates Foundation’s partners. “My thing is, maybe it is expensive. And maybe it’s not all easy. But that’s okay. It’s worth figuring out because we’re talking about the lives, contributions, and the realities of half the population.”