George Mason UniversitySchool of Business

Discussing Women’s Economic Empowerment with B4BW Affiliate Faculty Ruta Aidis

Written by Kiel Stone on .

Ruta AidisRuta Aidis is interested in the social, economic and institutional phenomena that impact behavioral outcomes. As an economist, Aidis understands the value of data-driven analysis, believing it speaks to a broader audience and adds a big-picture context to issues. While quantitative data analysis is very good at answering the ‘what’ question, it is not always as adept at answering the ‘why’ questions, or as Aidis puts it, “identifying underlying causes.”

It explains why she is such a proponent of mixed methods research, combining both representative data and rigorous analysis with qualitative data collection such as interviews and group discussions. This is especially important when doing research on women’s economic empowerment.

Though a number of definitions for women’s economic empowerment exist, for Aidis the most useful and compelling definitions highlight the need for woman’s advancement such as the definition put forth by the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW)—"a woman is economically empowered when she has both the ability to succeed and advance economically and the power to make and act on economic decisions.”

Recently, we had the opportunity to catch-up with this fantastic B4BW Affiliate Faculty member to learn more about women’s economic empowerment, its underlying causes, actions the business community can take, and Aidis’ research on the subject.

What is driving women’s lack of economic empowerment?

According to the 2020 World Bank’s Women, Business and the Law (WBL) report, economies are reforming laws and making progress towards gender equality, but large gaps still exist. In the 190 economies studied, on average, women have just three-fourths of the legal rights afforded to men. In the countries that make up the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, women have only half the rights of men.

Moreover, less than half of the 190 economies covered in the 2020 WBL report have legislation mandating equal remuneration for work of equal value, an important area of reform for governments hoping to reduce the gender wage gap. Globally, according to 2018 data from International Labor Organization, women are paid around 20 percent less than men.

In addition, estimates place more than one billion women without legal protection against sexual violence by an intimate partner or family member, and close to 1.4 billion without legal protection against domestic economic violence. In many countries, though married women may be protected against domestic violence, women in unmarried intimate relationships may not be.

Finally, women all over the world allocate a substantial amount of time to activities not typically recorded as “economic activities.” Globally, only 41 million men (1.5 percent) provide unpaid care on a full-time basis, compared to 606 million women (21.7 percent). Due to the additional burden of unpaid care work, women’s labor force participation tends to be more elastic than men’s. In many countries, when they work, a higher proportion of women are working in the informal economy. Of the many types of informal employment, women tend to be over-represented as domestic workers, home-based workers, waste pickers, street vendors, and sex workers.

Taken together, these discriminatory laws and practices continue to impede women’s ability to accumulate wealth and threaten the security of women’s wellbeing, economic achievements, career growth, and work-life balance. All of this leads to less asset and resource accumulation and less ability to influence and shape the economy

What can you tell us about your ongoing research in the economic empowerment space?

Since 2017, I have been investigating gender lens investing (GLI). GLI is a relatively new term and focus for impact investing yet is a promising lens that enables investment companies to make strategic and inclusive decisions that will yield more equitable outcomes and stronger company performance. GLI is a particularly timely and needed strategy to enable investment funds to contribute to reducing gender gaps in funding for women entrepreneurs and for supporting gender equitable employment at small and growing businesses (SGBs).

Currently, my focus is on how GLI practices adopted by impact investing firms can facilitate stronger economic, equality, and empowerment outcomes in SGBs and the broader community. Few studies have demonstrated the benefits of gender inclusive practices specifically for SGBs, and I am working on synthesizing the early results of how incorporating a gender lens influenced the portfolio of companies supported by NESsT, a small impact investing firm started by mixed gender teams in Brazil, Peru, and Poland.

But you’re doing more than just research, can you describe some of your other activities?

As a senior fellow at the Schar School of Policy and Government, I led the creation of the GenderMetrics.com platform that provides verified information about venture capital firms founded by women and that invest in women-led companies. The site also features The Women’s Leadership in Entrepreneurial Ventures (WLEV) Index, co-created with R. Sandra Schillo, an assistant professor of innovation and entrepreneurship at the Telfer School of Management at the University of Ottawa.

Additionally, I serve as a board member for both Ripple Effect Images and Women of Waste.

Ripple Effect Images is a nonprofit that uses world-class visual storytelling to illuminate proven solutions empowering women and girls across the globe. Over the past 10 years, Ripple has created an extraordinary library of photos, film and showcasing sustainable programs empowering women across food security, health, education, water and sanitation, energy, economic empowerment, and climate change. Ripple has supported over 40 nonprofits, and helped nonprofit partners raise more than $10 million USD to expand and replicate their successful programs. Women of Waste (WOW) advocates for and spotlights the work and achievement of women in the waste management and recycling sector. WOW explores the link between gender and sustainable waste management and resource recovery systems to improve waste management overall, by empowering women and increasing gender equality throughout the sector.

Ruta, thank you so much for your work in this field and your commitment to B4BW. What do you believe more businesses should be doing to improve gender equality and women’s economic empowerment?

I think there are two significant ways that businesses can continue catalyzing change—by integrating gender equality practices into their operations, and by influencing government policy.

There is growing interest in the private sector to move beyond what is legally required, and proactively begin adopting additional measures to support gender diversity and gender-friendly workplaces. Four main areas where companies are experiencing positive outcomes in improving policies and practices include equal pay for equal work, preventing and protecting staff from violence and harassment at work, promoting work-life balance and supporting families, and equal representation of women in leadership positions.

The business case for companies to advance gender equality and women’s empowerment in the workplace, marketplace, and community is clear: achieving full equality and equity is beneficial on both individual and collective levels, leading to more opportunities and greater profitability. There is increasing evidence supporting the business case for women in the workplace. For examples, studies indicate that:

● When boards are gender-balanced, companies are almost 20 percent more likely to have enhanced business outcomes.

● Companies with more women are more likely to introduce radical innovations.

Gender diversity in executive teams is positively correlated with greater profitability and value creation.

● Higher percentages of women in leadership positions leads to higher performance levels.

Gender-diverse value chains lead to stronger relationships with the supply base, new business opportunities, and a more agile value chain.

● Greater staff diversity positively leads to better decision-making.

In New Zealand, several companies voluntarily adopted policies to support victims of domestic violence. This prompted the Government of New Zealand to enact the Family Violence Act in November 2018, repealing its Domestic Violence Act of 1995. The new act introduces, for the first time, ten days of paid leave for victims of domestic violence, giving them time to leave their partners, find new homes, and protect themselves and their children.

Ruta Aidis holds a BA in Cultural Anthropology (University of Maryland), an MA in international Development (Institute of Social Studies, The Netherlands), and a PhD in Economics (University of Amsterdam).


George Mason University’s Business for a Better World Center (B4BW) focuses on using business as a force for good in society. For the sake of the planet and people across the globe, B4BW commits to remaking business education and demonstrating the critical role that business plays in addressing the world’s problems by providing hands-on, thought-provoking, and distinctive learning experiences. The Center focuses on the United Nations’ 17 Global Goals engaging leaders, shaping business education, and preparing tomorrow’s leaders to act with people, planet, and prosperity in mind.