scroll to top arrow or icon
Season 4

Episode 2: The economic power of women

Collage of women in the workplace.

Transcript: Season 4, Episode 2: The economic power of women

Disclosure: The opinions expressed by Eurasia Group analysts in this podcast episode are their own, and may differ from those of Citigroup Inc and its affiliates.

Ida Liu: Women do control a third of the world's global wealth today, and they make 70% of household consumption decisions. And it is a segment that we all have to be focused on, because the success of the women as a whole is going to continue to drive economic prosperity for all of our countries around the world.

Celeste Tambaro: One of the most important issues associated with such a high concentration of male CEOs is that the business community misses out on opportunities to innovate. When we're facing so many challenges in our domestic economy, our global economy going forward, we really have to think about these qualities that women bring to bear in leading companies.

Shari Friedman: Welcome to Living Beyond Borders, a podcast from Citi Global Wealth Investments and GZERO Media. On this program, we examine global risks and opportunities from the angles of both politics and economics. I'm Shari Friedman, Managing Director of Climate and Sustainability at Eurasia Group.

As we wrap up Women's History Month, we're devoting today's episode to the economic impact of women and the importance of their contribution in the labor market. The COVID-19 pandemic took a major toll on the economy and the job market in general, but women were disproportionately affected.

At the height of the pandemic, nearly 14 million women, that's 18% of the female population in the U.S., lost their jobs. That's compared to 14% of men in the same period. Now globally, women experienced setbacks in education, income, and equality that in some cases pushed the progress back by decades. But there's signs that this may be changing for the better.

Today we're going to talk about where women stand globally and why women are critical to the economy, and also solutions for achieving greater inclusion. I'm joined now by two women who have made it to senior positions in the male-dominated financial sector: Ida Liu, Global Head of Citi Private Bank, and Celeste Tambaro, Managing Director of the Financial Institutions Group at Eurasia Group. Welcome to you both.

Celeste Tambaro: Nice to be here with you.

Ida Liu: It's a pleasure to be on with you as always.

Shari Friedman: Ida, let's start with you. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics released a very encouraging report in February stating that the employment for women between ages 25 to 54 was back to pre-pandemic levels. What do you attribute that to, and are there implications for the overall economy?

Ida Liu: As you had just mentioned in your opening remarks, COVID has absolutely disproportionately impacted women. Not surprisingly, we've all heard about the Great Resignation, which really burdened women with the dual responsibility of caregiving and working almost double shifts, in some cases, triple shifts, leading to what I would call a high level of burnout. But women today account for the majority of workers in education, leisure and hospitality, enterprises that have been amongst the hardest hit by the pandemic related closures.

However, since the reopening of the economy, we've seen more and more women go back to work, which is very encouraging.

Shari Friedman: Mmhm.

Ida Liu: And this process will only continue to accelerate the economy and further advance the impact that women are going to have on the overall economic backdrop, which we hope is going to be incredibly positive.

In fact, the rise in services, global value chains and the digital economy has expanded women's roles in the economy. They've decreased inequality and expanded women's access to skills and education, which are absolutely key. Women's economic empowerment drives the social and economic multiplier benefit, and they're more likely to employ women employees and invest their income in the health and education and welfare of their families and communities.

Shari Friedman: That's interesting. I think you struck two things. One is that one of the reasons that the women have been so heavily affected is that they're in the service sector that was heavily affected, and the other is that it does have an impact on the broader economy with the social multiplier effect.

Celeste, I'd like to turn to you for the flip side, which is that men have not recovered in the same numbers and they remain shy of their pre-pandemic employment levels. Can you talk about what is happening in the labor market from your perspective?

Celeste Tambaro: It’s a great question. It's a very complicated question, and one I have to really think about often both as a professional with management responsibilities and as the mother of two young men who are only a few years out from entering the workforce, so it's a theme at home as well as at work. If we are simply looking at the labor force in the immediate aftermath of COVID, women's recovery in the labor market may be more directly tied to the reopening of schools and childcare facilities than to, say, the economic cycle per se.

This has likely been a factor driving the relative pace of women's reentry versus men, certainly in the shorter term. You also have to consider that the additional flexibility brought on by remote work allows more mothers to join the workforce, even if they are only part-time employees. And remember that women still represent the vast majority of part-time workers in the U.S.

If you zoom out from COVID for a second and going back to men, there are multiple factors leading to a decline in the participation of prime working age men in the labor force. First, this is not really a new trend. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has a really interesting chart that shows that the percentage of men in the workforce has been in steady decline since the 1960s. One key and more obvious driver behind this longer term trend is that the jobs in traditionally male dominated fields like manufacturing or areas where physical labor is required, they've just been disappearing over time, either as a consequence of automation, relocation to other geographies, or they're just simply becoming obsolete.

Another factor is more women joining the workforce, certainly great for our economy, as Ida highlighted, and certainly long-term for society. There's also less need for men to be the sole or primary breadwinners in households. Associated with that are evolving perspectives around the roles of men and women at home. And as such, men are taking on in many cases or more cases now, the full-time job of caring for families. And with that, stepping out of the workforce to do so.

In my career in the financial services sector, I've seen real changes in this regard. As a result of husbands, in certain cases, taking on full-time family care roles, more and more of my female colleagues not only had careers, but really have grown and thrived in those careers to very, very senior levels. And these women really have been afforded the flexibility, with husbands at home, of devoting the time and mind share really required to climb the corporate ladder. In some sense, our society and economy are evolving in this sense, but I think this only tells part of the story and speaks about those who are really lucky enough to have choices in terms of who works and who doesn't. In a nutshell, I would just say we really have to consider both women and men when we're analyzing gender issues in the workforce.

Shari Friedman: Right and you highlighted some conflicting trends that pull in different places. So Ida, while the overall picture for women, given all of these trends, has been positive in the U.S., the recovery has been really uneven. And so if we just dive into women specifically, it's been much weaker for women who lack a college degree. What are the long-term impacts of this trend?

Ida Liu: Well, it's interesting because women have overtaken men and now account for more than half, in fact, 51% of the college-educated labor force in the United States. And although this is a very positive development, we still see quite a rocky road for women who lack a college degree. And so less educated women are also more likely to suffer job losses during the pandemic, as both of us had outlined earlier, and given the impact of economic shutdowns on lower wage service workers as well, which disproportionately impacts, again, women.

The high cost of childcare is also a burden for low-wage earners. And if you're not able to attain childcare that's affordable, you simply can't return to work. So again, that disproportionate impact on women who tend to be more of the primary child caregivers.

It's very evident that women who hold a college degree play such an integral role in reducing the gender equity gap. But I have to underscore the fact that education is absolutely critical for the ongoing earnings power for women and also the ability to have a long-term career. And it's unfortunate, because there's a disproportionate amount of women around the world, who don't have that access to education and who don't have the access to the training that they need for the skill development that they need to have long-term in very successful jobs. So that continues to be a big issue.

Shari Friedman: Let's zoom out a bit and talk about the broader reasons on why inclusion is important to the economy. McKinsey published this often-cited report in September of 2020, that stated that if we had a full potential scenario of women participating equally in the job market with men, it could contribute as much as $28 trillion to the global GDP. Ida, can you unpack this a little bit and touch upon both why this might be, and also the roadblocks for getting to this full potential scenario?

Ida Liu: Well, we've made substantial progress for women in the formal economy with equal pay, employment opportunities, access to childcare and parental leave policies. And in the informal economy, there's still much more work to be done. In fact, women perform 75% of the world's unpaid work, effectively subsidizing the global economy, and women do 60% more household work than men and perform the vast majority of unpaid care for children, elderly and the sick, so that goes back exactly to what we were talking about at the start of this conversation of having sort of a double shift responsibility of the caregiving role that they play, either for kids or for elderly, on top of everything else that they're doing.

But women do control a third of the world's global wealth today, and they make 70% of household consumption decisions. And it is a segment that we all have to be focused on because the success of the women as a whole is going to continue to drive economic prosperity for all of our countries around the world.

Shari Friedman: You get back this idea of 75% of the unpaid workforce gets back again to the two issues that you've really brought up. One is that this income disparity and also the idea of the educational disparity. Celeste, you and Ida have made it up the ladder in a very male-dominated sector, the financial sector. What do you see as the business case for greater inclusion, both in the financial sector but also more broadly?

Celeste Tambaro: Certainly financial sector, any business, you have to look at is it's always a team effort. And I think the more diversity of thought and perspective and experience you know, you have bringing to bear in those settings, just make sure that much more powerful and agile and capable of navigating challenges and finding opportunities.

Shari Friedman: So Ida, we're talking about the benefits qualitatively, all these great things that can happen with greater inclusion, but is there evidence that companies with higher gender parity actually perform better?

Ida Liu: Absolutely. There's evidence that companies that not only have higher gender parity, but more diversity perform better, and gender equity is absolutely essential for organizations to perform at the highest levels. In fact, a study by McKinsey recently found that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on executive teams, were 21% more likely to outperform on profitability. And the study also found that profitability at companies with extremely low levels of gender diversity lagged behind modestly diverse companies. So even making a few steps towards a more diverse workplace can improve an organization's overall performance. So we must continue to embed this into our culture as we think it's absolutely essential to our growth and success as a company.

Shari Friedman: Taking that one step further to look at it from the investor perspective, you'd imagine then that investors are looking carefully at this as well as they look at the performance of their investee companies. How does an investor apply this inclusion lens to the investment process?

Ida Liu: There has been so much interest in the inclusion lens and of all different types of aspects of playing the ESG investment landscape. And I think it's very important that we shift our direction with clients to not only attract women, but to realize the magnitude of this trend in wealth that I talked about earlier, that women control a third of the world's wealth, they make 70% of the consumption decisions. And over the last two years, humanity has endured a variety of crises, not only with the COVID pandemic, but the intensifying impacts from climate change and the heightened racial injustice that we're seeing. And all around the world, women have frequently been amongst the ones that have been the worst impacted.

So investors and legislators have taken note and they've shifted their focus to a just recovery. One that addresses the stark inequalities around the world to promote innovation, enhanced growth, that will benefit everyone. And a women-focused recovery offers investors innovative potential investment opportunities and exciting growth opportunities, and a large number of sustainability-oriented investors seek to integrate a gender lens into their portfolios. I mean it's quite common these days to see that. And gender lens investing promotes women's leadership by investing in companies that have diversity at board and executive levels. And when investors are demanding that the world pays attention to that and hopefully, we move the needle much faster as well.

Shari Friedman: Right, and you're touching on something that's important that's been a thread through this conversation, which is that it's not just about having women at any level, seniority really matters. It's really getting women into the C-suite and into board positions. Last year, 74 of the Fortune 500 companies had female CEOs, and that was up significantly from the previous highs. But of course, that means that 426 of those companies were still led by men. Is there any impact of having so many men, and if so, how can that change?

Celeste Tambaro: Well, sure, there's absolutely impact of having so many men in the very top positions at corporations. Firstly, we expose ourselves to the possibility of reproducing biases, even unconscious ones, and that ends up going all the way down the corporate ladder, if you have such a concentration of men at the top. I'd also say that when it comes to decision making around complex and difficult issues, as I mentioned earlier, you know really you benefit from different perspectives, and you don't have different perspectives without having a diverse mix of viewpoints and experience sets.

Corporations are certainly increasingly dealing with greater demands from a broader range of stakeholders and Ida just referred to this point, employees, customers, shareholders, perspective and diversity of thought from leadership is really critical to meeting those demands. And without it, corporations increasingly may be subject to reputational risks, and it's certainly something that we have to think about.

There are many other issues to consider. I would say one that really does deserve attention is that such a high percentage of male CEOs, that means that even women-led businesses will have more exposure to primarily male clients, which can contribute to internalizing biases even at companies with cultures that truly encourage diversity.

Through my career, I've worked at many large financial institutions that really do encourage diversity. Through those experiences, I've managed clients, but there were instances where, sitting in a meeting with senior men, they would look to my male counterparts asking questions, even knowing that I was the business leader and the content expert. And in many cases, most cases, I would certainly say that was a reflection of unconscious bias, but it was a real-life example of how women remain at risk of losing opportunities if these biases are internalized, even in gender balanced companies.

One of the most important issues associated with such a high concentration of male CEOs is that the business community misses out on opportunities to innovate, both internally and externally. It's been shown through various studies that women see gaps in the market, and that's sort of really been a driver to why women-led businesses tend to be so successful. So when we're facing so many challenges in our domestic economy, our global economy going forward, we really have to think about these qualities that women bring to bear in leading companies going forward.

Shari Friedman: That's really interesting that it's not just what you can do inside of your company, but it's such a large interplay that you have with all of your customers and your other clients that you deal with. And I think that this goes beyond just with women. I think it extends to cultural diversity as well. And Ida, board diversity is a really big deal - cultural, gender, race. It's about getting the different perspectives into this high level decision making, which Celeste has talked about. What will it take to change the gender balance in corporate leadership?

Ida Liu: Well, I think we have a phenomenal example here at Citi with Jane Fraser, our CEO, who's the first female leader of a global bank. And I think she's setting the example for the industry. Diversity is led top down, but I think it's also important that we look at the way we recruit talent into our organization starting at the very beginning in the analyst classes and make sure that we have diverse interviewers and diverse interviewee slates as well.

And of course, making sure that we're retaining and developing diverse talent along the way, making sure that there's plenty of mentorship and leadership opportunities for all of them. And as Celeste mentioned earlier, even providing unconscious bias training for all of our employees in the organization to make sure that everyone is aware and supportive of all the different types of perspectives that we have here in the organization.

I would also say that something we've been talking about throughout the conversation is making sure that we're supporting women to come back to work and being able to be as successful as they can. And at Citi, we're encouraging our male employees to take some time off and the weight off of our females at home and participate in our parental leave policies here, for example, that we supply to our male colleagues as well. This obviously supports a lot of our Citi families with caregiving responsibilities and supporting our women with the caregiving responsibilities takes a weight off their shoulders and helps them regain and come back into the workforce as well. But we've really shattered the glass ceiling here at Citi. We're really proud of it. 50% of our employees are women. 50% of our board are women, and we were the first global financial institution in the world to release our gender pay gap numbers.

And we did that intentionally because we believe that what gets measured gets done. And I'm pleased to say that because we've measured it and because we put that out there, we are at pay equity this year and every single one of our leaders across the organization, I think this is key to moving the needle, is that we're all accountable for representation goals to help us continue to move the needle with women and diverse employees as well. And I think that every single one of us here at Citi are extremely proud of the progress that we've made, and we view our diversity as one of our key strengths and a competitive advantage and differentiator here in the organization.

Shari Friedman: I wanted to wrap this up with a question that gets a little more personal with both of you. I mean, we have general cultural biases in this country that can express themselves inside of corporations. They're not the corporate bias, they're just the general countrywide bias. The best example I can think of is how women tend not to negotiate as hard for their higher salaries than men do. There's been a lot of studies out on that. And so I'm wondering, a question to you both is, how do you address biases that are not built into the corporation, they're just things that the corporation has to deal with in order to have more gender parity?

Celeste Tambaro: Something I would certainly highlight is that women have to support other women in organizations, and I would certainly point to senior women that have to really take the responsibility of supporting female coworkers as they advance through their careers. And often, fewer spots are filled by women in senior positions, which does lend to a tendency to protect those positions. And women can certainly change that dynamic if we really stop looking at female advancement as a zero-sum game and push together to the top.

Ida Liu: You know it's interesting because I come from a pretty unique vantage point. I've got two ceilings that I'm facing. On the one hand, it's the glass ceiling, and on the other hand it's the “bamboo ceiling.” And whilst I think we've made a lot of progress on the glass ceiling, we've effectively shattered it here at Citi, there's still a lot of work to be done on the bamboo ceiling side, and I happen to co-head our Asian Heritage network here at Citi.

And I think a lot of the observations whether sort of the inherent cultural values and beliefs of the Asian community tend to apply a lot in the women's space as well. That's being a little more risk averse and just being a little bit more unwilling to step out of your comfort zone and challenge yourself and go for the next job until you're 120% ready when your male counterparts are going, when they're 50% ready.

I think just having some knowledge around that, encouraging some women to apply for roles, taking a step forward and just making sure that they know that if you don't ask for it, you're not going to get it, so don't assume your managers know what you want. You've got to tell them what you want, and you've also got to highlight your accomplishments.

And in my culture, it's really uncommon to do that. You're taught to put your head down, to work hard, to be modest, don't brag, but that's exactly what you don't want to do when you're trying to get ahead in corporate America. You've got to highlight your contributions, your good work, and so that others know what you're doing.

The other thing that's important is that you adopt teamwork to get ahead in corporate America, and it's not a solo sport. You don't succeed on your own. So the more that you get in that spirit of working well with others and working collectively as a team; that you adopt that mentality that we succeed together, the more successful I think you're going to be.

But one thing that's very clear is we all need to pay it forward. And it's hard when you're the only one. Often times you hear of the imposter syndrome, and in order to combat that, you really have to have strength in numbers. And so that's a lot of sponsorship, mentorship, getting women there, training on the unconscious bias we talked about, making sure you have a lot of allies as well, that understand these nuances that we're talking about, that can come to the table and help.

And most importantly, and very importantly, it is important that we have measurement on this because we again, believe that what gets measured gets done. And in order for us to move the needle quickly, it's important that we're making sure that we're advancing women to the right pace, the right velocity, and that all leaders are accountable in doing that and playing their role in doing that as well.

Shari Friedman: Those were really fascinating insights. Thank you so much. Ida Liu, Global head of Citi Private Bank, and Celeste Tambaro, Managing Director of the Financial Institutions Group at Eurasia Group. Thanks so much to you both.

Celeste Tambaro: Thank you, Shari.

Ida Liu: Thank you so much, Shari.

Shari Friedman: That's it for this episode of Living Beyond Borders. Listen to all of this season's episodes by heading to, and click on the Living Beyond Borders tab, or you can find episodes in the GZERO World Podcast feed wherever you get your podcasts. For GZERO, I'm Shari Friedman, thanks for listening.

Previous Page


Subscribe to GZERO's daily newsletter

Subscribe to our global politics newsletter GZERO Daily