Women: an Economic Imperative

March 8, 2019

By 2050, 68% of the world’s population will be living in cities.1  Roughly half of those residents will be women. According to a national study, out of 600 practicing city planners in the U.S., 94% report their communities to have a comprehensive plan. Yet, only 2% report that their plans give specific attention to the needs of women.2 Despite significant progress made by and for women in recent decades, our cities are still not adequately delivering to create places and spaces that support women as a key economic driver.

The economic impact of women is undeniable. If U.S.-based women-owned businesses were their own country, it would rank as the 5th largest GDP in the world.3 Yet, female founders in the U.S. received just 2% of all VC dollars in 2017.Investing in women is an imperative.

Women as an Economic Imperative Denver

Here in Denver, we’ve made great strides in supporting female entrepreneurs through Denver Startup Week and programs at The Commons on Champa, Denver’s entrepreneurial resource center. To date, The Commons has supported 53 women, 26 of color, launch a business in its CO.Starters program. Also, Women on the Rise, a group of 2,000 members, inspires and supports women entrepreneurs by connecting them to resources, expertise, and community.

We want to build upon this foundation and lead the charge in building a city where women can thrive. For a variety of factors, women are significantly less likely to live and work in Downtown Denver than men. How can we design a downtown that is equally attractive to all? To design our cities for women, we must enable women to make their voices heard; document and measure women’s unique experiences; and design for those specific requirements.


Transportation is just one example of our cities’ shortcomings when it comes to accommodating women. Women make 15% more trips out of the home than men.5 They are 80% more likely to make stops along their journey than men.Women workers under the age of 30 are just as likely to choose transit as choosing to drive for their commute to Downtown Denver and more likely than men to use sustainable mobility options. But, transit option becomes less convenient when there is a need to combine a commute with other trip purposes related to work, socializing, and family. Therefore, women are less likely to utilize transit as they age because of factors such as safety and the added cost of multiple stops. How can we design a mobility system that supports women to be able to choose smart travel options in all stages of life?


Designing our cities for women means thinking differently about time and space. In the public realm, we must consider factors such as sight lines and location of lighting to improve the perception of safety. City planners and designers increasingly recognize the need to create safe spaces for all groups and populations; however, they often rely on data like crime statistics, leaving women out of the process used to determine what is perceived to be safe or unsafe.

Care Work

Despite a shift in gender roles and norms, data shows that women still take on more housework and care work than men. Yet support for this work is limited; for example, childcare centers are in short supply and high demand, in Downtown Denver and more generally. The 80202 zip code, at the heart of Denver’s downtown business district, includes only three childcare centers.

Compounding low supply is high expense. Colorado is ranked 7th out of 50 states for most expensive infant care, with average costs of $13,154 annually, or $1,096 per month. The cost of infant care in the state is 60% more per year than the cost of in-state tuition for a 4-year public college.7

There is great opportunity here. Access to support and resources by way of childcare facilities in close proximity to where women live and work is necessary.

Care work extends beyond just that for children. Consider the elderly or those with disabilities. Most of the time, these responsibilities fall on the shoulders of women. In fact, 75% of caregivers are women and may spend up to 50% more time providing care than men.8

Public Representation

A less obvious but equally important consideration, especially for future generations, is the lack of female historical figures in public. Less than 8% of U.S. public outdoor sculptures of individuals are women.9 We tell girls that they can be anything they want to be, but where is their inspiration?

Campaigns to address this issue are currently underway in major cities. The city of Pittsburgh is asking residents to submit ideas for statues commemorating women and the contributions women have made to those places. For the first time in its 164-year history, New York’s Central Park will include a statue featuring two women: Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, to be unveiled in 2020 for the centennial anniversary of the 19th Amendment.

What is Next?

These are just a few examples of the ways in which cities can do better to serve women. We have come so far and have so much more to accomplish. Today is International Women’s Day, a day that we celebrate the accomplishments, by and for women, that close the gender gap. In our opinion, acknowledging women takes more than a day. We have been and will continue to be, dedicated to leading the charge in building a city where women can thrive every day for as long as it takes. This is not purely an ethical issue. It is an economic imperative.

We want you to engage in conversations surrounding this topic. Use #DEN4Women to share your thoughts on how we can better build Denver for women. And, stay tuned for more from the Partnership.

1 United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

2 Micklow, A., Kancilla, E., & Warner. M. (2015). The need to plan for women: Planning with a gendered lens: Issue brief 2015 from the American Planning Association and Cornell University’s Women Planning Forum.

3 American Express. (2017). The 2017 state of women-owned business report.

4  Zarya, V. (31 January 2018). Female founders got 2% of venture capital dollars in 2017. Fortune.

5 Transport for London—Women. Available from https://tfl.gov.uk/campaign/women-in-transport.

6 Sánchez de Madariaga, I. (2013). The Mobility of Care: A New Concept in Urban Transportation. In Sánchez de Madariaga, I., & Roberts, M. (Eds.), Fair Share Cities: The Impact of Gender Planning in Europe. London: Ashgate.

7 The Women’s Foundation of Colorado. (2017). Progress Toward Prosperity: Priorities for Advancing and Accelerating Women’s Economic Security.

8 Institute on Aging. (2016). Read How IOA Views Aging in America.

9 Shane, C. (15 April 2011). Why the dearth of statues honoring women in Statuary Hall and elsewhere? The Washington Post.