It’s not just bad business today to ignore women in the workplace. It’s risky business.

Women make up 50% of the workforce, have higher education levels than men, are often the primary breadwinners in their families, yet end up underpaid and underrepresented in the workplace. According to UNICEF, women do 66% of the world’s work, but only earn 10% of the world’s income.

According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), if developed countries raised women employment rates to those of men they could increase their GDP by 12% by 2030. Other studies, such as a recent report from McKinsey & Co., say that having more women in the workplace can lead to higher productivity and efficiency.

“Women don’t need help. Women need recognition and support. They need champions,” says Jane Nelson, lecturer and a director of Harvard Kennedy School’s Corporate Social Responsibility Initiative. “They have similar qualifications, capabilities, education as men. Companies need to have a strategic framework for gender diversity, with goals, targets, sponsors, and support networks, and with clear leadership from the top.”

But changes are difficult to implement as the obstacles that stand in the way of gender balance are often complex and multi-faceted. So complex that most companies aren’t able to come up with the right initiatives to promote change.

To tackle gender challenges in your company, Nelson outlines a three-part mantra for advancing women in the workplace:

PART 1: ENGAGE MORE STRATEGICALLY WITH WOMEN IN YOUR BUSINESS OR ASSOCIATED WITH YOUR SUPPLY CHAIN.

This includes strategies to recruit, retain, and promote women. In 2011, Walmart launched a three-part initiative that focused on training and increasing the number of women suppliers it uses. Mining group Rio Tinto has clear targets to have women represent 20% of its senior management and 40% of graduates hired by 2015.

“We try to get across that the most important thing a company can do is directly engage women as employees, managers, directors, suppliers, distributors, and consumers,” says Nelson. “That is just as relevant for companies operating in America as companies operating in any other country.”

PART 2: ENABLE WOMEN BY PROVIDING FUNDS AND RESOURCES WHERE IT MATTERS.

For example, Goldman Sachs launched the 10,000 Women initiative in 2008 to provide training and networks to women entrepreneurs in developing countries. Last year, Intel launched a technology program that aims to train 5 million African women to use the Internet by 2016.

Read the rest of the article here.