Globally, women earn on average 10%-30% less than men, with women earning even less in some Asian and Latin American countries, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO). This is not only an issue of fairness but also represents an acute economic threat.

The World Economic Forum’s Global Risks 2014 report says that income disparity is the number one challenge facing the world, and it has a significant gender dimension. When women are better integrated into the workforce, research indicates that income gaps – which can lead to social unrest – become narrower. The report makes it clear that the economic empowerment of women can no longer be viewed as a “nice to have”; it must be seen as one of the greatest challenges we face today.

Think in terms of opportunity

Troubling as the realities and projections may be, as leaders in business and government search for ways to foster women’s economic empowerment, we encourage them to reframe the challenge as an opportunity rather than a threat, looking at the positive impact that economically empowered women can have on society and the economy. Focusing too heavily on inequities and injustice encourages us to perceive women as victims, and victimization disempowers. Pity won’t drive prosperity; awakening the economic potential of half of humanity will.

Consider the evidence

At my company, Tupperware Brands, we have seen first-hand how women bring economic and personal richness to the lives of families, communities and, ultimately, economies. Central to our business and to our engagement with millions of women across the globe is a model of personal and business development based on direct selling. We see women embrace the tools provided to them, harness their strength to overcome restrictive laws, practices and belief systems, and tap their own entrepreneurial and developmental potential to have a positive impact on their loved ones and the community.

In Indonesia, our largest market, we have seen women increase their income level by a factor of 75. Whereas men are prone to think “me”, women have a mindset of “we”. Empower a woman economically, and you will see a ripple effect on the family and the community. A study conducted in Indonesia recently by the Global Fairness Initiative (GFI) and the Indonesian research firm DEKA illustrates this well. It shows that as the income of a Tupperware saleswoman grows, she reinvests in her business and, crucially, in her children’s schooling – two keys to future economic growth.

The same women also all report giving to their community, for which they become role models. In the primarily Muslim communities in which they live, they report becoming equal decision-makers in the home and enjoying deeper relationships with their husbands. An earlier GFI study conducted in Mexico and OECD studies paint a similar picture. When you consider the opportunity and potential benefits to the global economy, this becomes an altogether different discussion.

Adopt a two-pronged approach

When it comes to economic empowerment, it is important to separately consider the dynamics of developed versus emerging markets. Whereas efforts to empower women economically in developed markets focus on wage parity, glass ceilings and the family-friendliness of companies, empowerment efforts in most emerging markets face a different, larger set of societal and economic challenges that begin during childhood with education access and continue throughout adulthood to capital and employment access.

Business, government and civic society all play a role in driving positive change. Looking specifically at business, we applaud the direct and indirect impact that a number of companies have had on the finance and well-being of women and families in the developed markets. Their efforts not only affect millions of people but also boost entire economies. A study conducted by Booz & Company, The Third Billion, quantifies the potential impact of wage parity. It suggests that if women’s paid employment rates were raised to the same level as men’s, GDP would rise 9% in the United States, 13% in the Eurozone and 16% in Japan. Countless studies, including the recent Shriver Report and the Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2013, suggest that countries, including the United States, have a long way to go.

At Tupperware we have seen that the greatest opportunity to ignite women’s economic potential lies within emerging markets, which are home to 87% of the world’s population. It is within those markets that a pragmatic, bottom-up model for change can produce prosperity: by (a) building on women’s exceptional ability for building bonds and sharing success; and (b) bolstering their personal confidence in a way that builds prosperity and self-esteem from self to company to country. It is our conviction that a pragmatic tools and personal training-based contribution of this kind can lead to sustainable prosperity in these markets.

Deepen our understanding

We are proud to be a partner of the World Economic Forum and active contributor to its Gender Parity Programme. We deeply value the formal and informal exchanges we have among the “coalition of the committed” throughout the year and at in Davos, and we strongly believe that the leaders of companies like ours have a central role to play in driving positive change on economic parity between the genders.

With the magnitude of the income disparity threat etched into the minds of leaders across the globe, it is our hope and our plea that businesses and organizations will not only nurture the conversation on the positive impact of women’s economic empowerment but also put in place concrete actions to make a significant change throughout the world.

This blog is part of a series for International Women’s Day.

Author: Rick Goings is Chairman and CEO of the Tupperware Brands Corporation

Image: An office worker with a shopping bag is reflected on the roof of a building in central Sydney REUTERS/Daniel Munoz