On March 8 the world celebrated the 98th International Women's Day.
Great strides have been made in closing gender gaps since its launch in 1911. At that time, less than five countries had granted women the right to vote. Today, this is a universal right in all but a handful of countries.
Over the past century, legislation relating to equal pay, inheritance, property rights and violence improved around the world. Health and literacy gaps have been reduced.
School enrollment ratios in some parts of the world have in fact been reversed, with more women than men enrolled in primary, secondary and tertiary level education. Perhaps most evident has been the massive influx of women into the workforce in recent decades, resulting in enormous gains for the global economy.
Yet, there is still much work to be done, in education, health, the workplace, legislation and politics.
Women make up one half of the global human resource pool - countries that do not invest adequately in educating and empowering girls and capitalizing on the female portion of the talent pool, are undermining their economies' resilience, productivity and future competitive potential.
Furthermore, there is compelling evidence that diverse groups and teams perform better at problem-solving than homogeneous ones.
The reasoning is simple. Innovation requires new, unique ideas - and the best ideas flourish in an environment that encourages representation of all stakeholders, diversity of opinion and openness.
This implies that most business environments have thus far not been nurturing the best decisions and that greater representation of women in senior leadership positions within governments and financial institutions is vital not only to find solutions to the current economic turmoil, but to help stave off such crises in future.
At the World Economic Forum, we make two contributions to the global efforts to reduce gender gaps.
First, we recognize that measuring the size of the problem is a prerequisite for identifying the best solutions.
The Global Gender Gap Report ranks countries according to the size of their gender gaps. The new Corporate Best Practices for Gender Equality study will assess the practices that promote gender equality in the corporate sector, based on a comprehensive survey of over 3,000 companies in some of the largest developed and emerging economies in the world.
Second, we place a strong emphasis on a multi-stakeholder approach for engaging leaders, sharing best practices and developing solutions.
The Gender Parity Groups are multi-stakeholder communities of highly influential and committed leaders - 50 percent women and 50 percent men - from business, politics, academia, media and civil society.
The Global Agenda Council on the Gender Gap is composed of the leading experts and practitioners conducting the latest research in the field of gender.
Individuals and organizations represented in these communities are working towards empowering women and bringing the world ever closer to achieving gender parity.
(Klaus Schwab is founder and executive chairman, and Saadia Zahidi is head of constituents of the World Economic Forum.)
(Shanghai Daily March 12, 2009)