It’s 2015. Yet, no country in the world has yet achieved gender equality. The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2014 shows that, despite some progress, women’s participation in the economy remains a big challenge. Progress is too slow. The overall gender gap for economic participation and opportunity currently stands at 60 percent worldwide, having closed by only four percentage points since 2006. On this trajectory, it will take 81 years to close the gap. That’s the year 2095, and we will not be around to see that day.

A force for growth

As we commemorate International Women’s Day, its important to acknowledge this ‘progress’ is not good enough. We need big, bold changes. Evidence shows us that women are a powerful force for economic growth and businesses, toward a better life for all. We know from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that gender equality in labor participation rates would have a strong positive impact on GDP growth—globally it could rise by as much as 2 percent or $1.5 trillion if women and men entrepreneurs could participate equally. Other studies have shown that Fortune 500 companies with the most women managers have shareholder returns 34 percent higher than those with the fewest women managers. Closer to home, U.S. GDP could increase by more than 9 percent if women’s pay was equal to that of men.

"The overall gender gap for economic participation and opportunity currently stands at 60 percent worldwide, having closed by only four percentage points since 2006. On this trajectory, it will take 81 years to close the gap. "

Due to gender inequalities, far more men than women start, grow and expand their businesses today. Reasons vary by country, but women’s and men’s access to human, financial and social capital (e.g., networks) remains unequal globally.

The path to progress

Social norms and attitudes also influence women’s business lives. For example, it is taken for granted in many countries that women should be solely responsible for care of children, sick and the elderly, and other household and family responsibilities. Even where it is acceptable for mothers to work outside the home, they lack access to child care.

At U.N. Women increasing women’s economic empowerment lies at the heart of our mission toward women’s rights and gender equality. Wherever I travel as the head of U.N. Women, I urge politicians and the private sector to move faster and make bolder changes, from increasing women’s leadership in board rooms, to gender-responsive policies for supply chains and factory floors.

The Women’s Empowerment Principles, a U.N. Women-U.N. Global Compact initiative, offer practical guidance to the private sector on how to empower women in the workplace, marketplace and community.

Globally and locally, we work with governments, NGOs and community-based groups to support women entrepreneurs in emerging markets with mentoring and coaching, helping women to access networks. These women are positive role models and creators of jobs for other women too.