Women are the spending power of more than two thirds of Australian households. They represent just under half the global population and are the fastest growing group of consumers worldwide. They are also rapidly becoming the fastest growing entrepreneurial group in both first and third world countries. For the first time in history, an increasing number of women are becoming independently wealthy. The UK Office of National Statistics predicts that by year 2020 women’s pay will overtake men’s, and that already 46% of millionaires are women.  While in Australia, 14 of the 200 people in the 2014 BRW Rich List were women.

The growth of women’s financial independence and power is shaping industries, communication methods and consumer demands as businesses attempt to remain relevant with this group of decision makers.

It makes economic sense to engage and collaborate commercially with women to gain balanced insight and leadership as part of strategic decision making for the future.

If women are in fact making 80% of household purchasing decisions, then they are probably more equipped to add weight to discussions about innovation, new product development, marketing, consumer engagement and customer service strategies.

At the end of the day, who better to get inside the mind of a female shopper than women themselves? Forward-thinking companies understand they need women to figure out how to market to women.

As female financial independence and earning power increases, women’s spending tends to focus on the people they support versus materialistic purchases. Innovation across industries is required to determine the best way to leverage the growth of female buying power; and innovation by women as leaders is the ideal scenario.

Despite all the positives, women continue to remain the world’s greatest underdeveloped and underused source of labour, with nearly half of working-age women not currently active in the formal global economy. A first-world nation, Australia has one of the lowest rates of educated women participating in the workplace despite having one of the highest rates of tertiary education for women.

Research shows us that gender-balanced organisations report increased teamwork and improved consumer insights. The 2004 Catalyst report,The Bottom Line: Connecting Corporate Performance and Gender Diversity,’ illustrates improved corporate performance with a gender-balanced workplace, and almost ten years later a 2013 UK government report, The Business Case for Equality and Diversity, finds evidence to support gender diversity. This report concludes that businesses actively supporting and engaging a culture of diversity and equality create a positive impact on business performance, risk assessment and decision making, and witness improved company culture and overall increased staff retention. According to the 2013 Male Champions of Change report, “Tapping into the full talent pool will give us a diversity advantage, creating commercial, societal and economic value.”

There is no doubt that unconscious bias continues to challenge the achievement of true equality in the workplace.

The lack of female leaders in today’s business environment will drastically affect the pipeline of female leaders for tomorrow.  The disappearing female leader equates to a management team devoid of perspective and decision making that is one-dimensional. To successfully collaborate and future-proof business and careers we all need to – as COO of Facebook Sheryl Sandberg says – Lean In.

Listen to what the women in society and in business are saying right now.

Explore the possibilities of what diversity and 100% involvement can bring and learn how the benefits of a collaborative society and workplace – one that is well rounded, well influenced and well distributed – can widen perspective and create opportunities that have not yet been tapped into.

The increasing influence of women is challenging us all to adapt and realign ourselves to the needs of a new society. Engaging women in the workplace, especially at the leadership level, is an essential part of the new collaborative economy.