Vasie Papadopoulos of Hamilton is an executive MBA student at the University of Western Ontario's Ivey Business School in London, Ont. She is the fiscal and regulatory affairs manager for Philip Morris International in Canada and is the founder of OurWrite, a volunteer organization focused on building female supportive schools and community centres in developing countries. This is her first blog for EMBA Diary.
A shirt I often wear simply states: "The future is female." It elicits an array of reactions, from supportive to ignorant. But I don't care. It's a statement I want to see realized, especially when it comes to female education and economic equality.
My executive MBA class this year has the largest cohort of women the program has had in its history – 38 per cent to be exact. A percentage like that might seem low for some, and for others it's an example that progress is slowly being made.
For me, it isn't just an issue of advancing women in the corporate world in Canada, but how Canadian business leaders should support women's equality worldwide. Supporting women's equality is not only a matter of social and political justice, but also an economic imperative. And that equality starts with education.
Studies consistently show that by closing the gender gap globally through educating girls and women, economic stability and prosperity are evident. Research shows that one extra year of primary school increases a woman's wages by 10 to 20 per cent, and an extra year of secondary school increases them by 15 to 25 per cent.
Women, in turn, devote their earnings to their families, their social circle and their communities, thereby growing their economies.
But that economic growth is not limited to just their community. Educational parity leads to more women in professional roles, an overall increase in labour participation and the ability to take on leadership positions benefiting the global economy. The McKinsey Global Institute released an extensive 2015 report that showed how advancing women's equality can add $12-trillion to global growth.
One of the key indicators of this realization is educational equality. I know of at least two women who had the foresight to understand that their education would not only benefit themselves, but also their communities and thousands of other women in their countries.
When Shabana Basij-Rasikh in Afghanistan decided to dress as a boy from the age of 6 to 11 so she could receive an education, she didn't realize that her determination would lead her to found SOLA – the School of Leadership Afghanistan. SOLA now provides girls from all over Afghanistan the opportunity to learn in a setting that promotes critical thought and respect, while representing all major ethnic groups.
Kakenya Ntaiya from the Maasai community in Kenya, as a trade-off with her father, underwent female genital mutilation to ensure she got an education. She went on to graduate from college and now runs her own organization, Kakenya's Dream, which has helped more than 8,000 youth, including 350 girls and young women for which a safe and encouraging education is possible.
These statistics, these stories, are what drives me as a business and community leader.
I come from a family of Greek immigrants with a history of strong women. Their circumstances never allowed someone like my mother or my grandmother to fully realize their educational potential, and therefore their economic potential.
While my parents came to Canada to allow my sisters and I to fully realize our education potential, that opportunity should be there regardless of the country or community you live in.
Reaching my educational potential, while completing my executive MBA, means I can lead on closing the gender gap, it means I can lead on breaking those glass ceilings, and it means I can be a force for economic and gender parity change.
If every girl and woman had that opportunity, can you imagine what society could be? The future would definitely be female.