With Half The World's Population Not Working At Their Potential, Gender Equality Must Be Job #1

July 11 is World Population Day, a 24-hour time span to focus on global population issues. Possibly no issue is more pressing than gender inequality and its effect on individuals and economies.

In fact, women make up half the world's working-age population. According to a McKinsey Global Institute report issued in 2015, if the full potential of women were realized - where women play an identical role in the labor market to that of men - the global GDP could be increased by $28 trillion by 2025. That's the equivalent of the GDP in U.S. and China combined.

Effectively employing this half of our world's working population will drive a higher standard of living for all of us, and lift millions of individuals and families out of poverty. But what it means for women extends far beyond the ability to work and be compensated fairly; it is in many cases the difference between life and death. When women are marginalized, they are more susceptible to violence, even at home. The World Health Organization has declared that, for one third of women in the world, there is no place less safe than the home.

Giving women the power to thrive in the workplace and in life begins when they are girls. This year's World Population Day theme is "investing in teenage girls". Education is a critical component, especially in developing countries where girls' education is often not a high priority. UNICEF estimates that 63 million girls of school age are out of school and 15 million never set foot inside a classroom.

Educating girls breaks the cycle of poverty and creates a ripple effect of opportunity that can influence generations to come. Educated women are less likely to marry early and against their will, less likely to die in childbirth, more likely to have healthy babies and send their daughters to school, and more likely to hold meaningful jobs. The Center for Global Development has found that every year of education a girl receives equates to a 10-20% increase in earning potential--income that goes back into her family and community.

Another obstacle for girls as they become women involves laws that perpetuate deep-rooted stereotypes that a woman's place is at home raising a family, that women are followers, not leaders, and that they should obey their husbands. The World Bank has found that nine in ten countries have laws impeding women's economic opportunities, such as barring women from working at night, the type of professions women can enter or getting a job without permission from their husbands. Think of how many women who work nights or are single mothers, and imagine the impact it would have on their families if they couldn't work.

It's time to effectively employee half of the world's working population.

On the policy level, we need to enact and enforce favorable, gender sensitive laws and policies to support education and equal workplace policies for all genders. And we need institutional arrangements and healthcare services that enable women to balance their work and family roles.

Employers must do their part to decrease gender based constraints by giving women meaningful roles in all stages of the value chain, especially in leadership or decision-making positions. Management training, skills training, professional development, and mentorship programs will give women the resources they need to rise into leadership positions.

As CEO of a company that develops products to improve the health of people living in developing countries, I've witnessed firsthand the value, for women and for the business, when women are involved in significant roles throughout the value chain. I recently joined the UN Women advisory board for Nordic countries because I wanted to share insights and support initiatives to close the gender gap that suppresses girls, women and economies.

I believe that we all have the responsibility to help women who face unfair treatment that prevents them from leading independent fulfilled lives. And I believe in the trickle-down effect, that by helping women succeed in the workplace, I may help alter the plight of 11-year-old girls in India who are often married away or nine-year-old girls in Pakistan from being brought into slave labor.

There is cause to be optimistic that positive change is coming. Our world leaders at the G-20 pledged last year to reduce the gap in women's labor force participation by 25% by 2025. They established W-20, an engagement group tasked to promote gender mainstreaming and inclusive growth, and they acknowledged the pressing need for active policies to achieve ambitious and measurable targets.

Human development and economic progress hinges on our ability to eliminate gender inequality. Actions to advance this global priority must be as bold as intentions. A highly collaborative effort and information sharing among the divergent groups working to close the gender gap will speed positive impact. Let's quickly unleash the collective power of women everywhere, to give them a chance to better their own lives while making the world a better place for us all.