If It Came Home

Although the Lionesses did not succeed in claiming the ultimate honour of becoming world champions, a sense of pride prevails. Their campaign – along with the surging prominence of women’s football more widely - illustrates the continuing fight against, and defiance of, the persistent scepticism towards women’s ability to “deliver”. On the pitch, detractors doubt their speed and power; their ability to create the moments of magic that have enthralled England’s football fans for more than a century. In the workplace, sceptics question women’s commitment, leadership abilities, and decision-making prowess. They are wrong, and it’s costly.

The 2023 Women’s World Cup shattered all kinds of records. Two million fans flooded Australia’s and New Zealand’s stadiums in aggregate, almost twice the number of the last tournament; triple that of 2003. Australia’s semi-final against England drew the highest TV viewership in the country over the past twenty years [1]. FIFA’s prize money almost quadrupled to $110m from $30m four years ago[2] , albeit still significantly trailing the $440m awarded to the men in Qatar 2022.

The success of women’s football, which is only now being realised by officials and marketers, is not a coincidence. It is the result of a long and bitter battle of players to secure a fraction of the trust and support their male counterparts have enjoyed for decades: pay being the most obvious one, followed by training infrastructure, coaching, and other off-pitch services.

Changing the Game

A sustained pursuit of gender equity is paramount not just in sports, but in all aspects of life. It certainly is from an economic perspective. Gender equity in the workplace has made significant strides over the past century, yet considerable potential remains untapped: according to PwC’s Women in Work Index, the aggregate output of the OECD [3] could increase by as much as $5.8 trillion [4] if its member countries matched Sweden’s female employment rates, with the UK poised to boost its gross domestic product by 6% annually.

And this merely covers the supply-side of the equation. Further chipping away at the glass ceiling for female talent already in the workforce promises even more economic benefits. Beyond ensuring that senior management is staffed by the best available expertise, more diverse teams have proven to enhance performance through a broader set of perspectives, reduced bias, and improved accountability. Research by McKinsey shows that companies whose executive teams rank in the top quartile of gender diversity are 25% more likely to outperform their peers[5]  in terms of profitability. A similar report by The Pipeline, a diversity consultancy, suggests that the UK economy could unlock an additional £54 billion in profits[6]  if diversity laggards were to achieve the same margins as their more diverse counterparts. At a time of structurally stagnating demographics and productivity growth, this potential becomes ever harder to dismiss.

We Still Believe

Finally, as in football, representation matters. Promoting female leaders will inspire the next generation of talent to follow their footsteps, hopefully driving a virtuous cycle of equity. Driving policy to support gender parity is not trivial but critical in building a more sustainable economy for all. The Lionesses will be back, not just striving for world cup glory, but championing female empowerment as they go. The progress in women’s football mirrors a broader societal shift, highlighting the vast untapped potential in achieving it.

[3] The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)is a forum where the governments of 38 democracies with market-based economies collaborate to develop policy standards to promote sustainable economic growth.

[4] Women in Work Index 2023 - PwC UK