It was a call to action, though nothing as blatant as asking us to wave protest signs or storm the gates. It was a call to change the way we look at the world, the way we think.

On March 5, 2014, the Vancouver Board of Trade’s Women’s Leadership Circle program brought former first lady, U.S. Secretary of State and New York Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton to Vancouver.  In front of a record crowd, Clinton spoke about ceilings – the limits we put on how much a woman can advance in business, government and society in general.  Every country has them. Some ceilings are higher than others, but countries around the world share a common trait: the ceiling for women is lower than the ceiling for men, and this greatly impacts the economy.

“Societies hurt themselves when women are not given equal participation,” Clinton said to the packed audience of 2700. Ceilings limit a country’s workforce, meaning that country can never thrive if they’re limiting half their population. Where women lack the opportunity to fully participate in their society, the GDP is far less than what it could be. In the United States, increasing women’s opportunity for advancement would increase the GDP by 5%. In countries in the Middle East, where the economy is in desperate need of help, increasing women’s participation in society would increase the GDP by as much as 34%.

Let’s take gender out of the equation. If you have a population of 1,000,000, are you going reduce your workforce to 500,000, taking away half of your economic contributors? Economies bump against the ceiling as much as women do. By limiting the role women play in society, we’re limiting economic growth and advancement, and it’s not only in the Middle East. Countries like Canada and the U.S. can thrive by forgetting about ceilings and gender, and by looking at their entire populations as equal participants and contributors.

Thank you to the Vancouver Board of Trade for bringing such an inspiring, world-leading speaker to Vancouver.