WASHINGTON – Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Tuesday women already play a key part in strengthening the global economy – and expanding that role is not only the right thing to do but also good for business.

“If women participate fully even in our own country, our GDP would rise significantly,” Clinton said.

At the inaugural meeting of the International Council of Women’s Business Leadership, Clinton met with top businesswomen to encourage female economic empowerment and share ideas. Chartered by the U.S. government in February 2011, the council includes two vice chairs and 18 other members selected by Clinton, the chairwoman.

“One fact is already clear: Including more women at the top of organizations, businesses, and the public sector is not just the right thing to do; it is the smart thing to do,” Clinton said during her remarks at the State Department. “It’s good for business. It’s good for results.”

Still, she said, female entrepreneurs face an uphill battle. Noting that only about 3 percent of CEOs at Fortune 500 companies are women, Clinton invited the council to express their ideas for strengthening the role of women in the economy.

Council Vice Chair Cherie Blair, wife of Tony Blair and founder of the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, said women perform 66 percent of the world’s work and produce 50 percent of the food, but they only earn 10 percent of the income.

“That is not equitable,” she said.

To explain the discrepancy, the council members reasoned that women are also mothers and wives, roles that often take precedence over being entrepreneurs. Blair noted that when a child is sick or a woman is pregnant, they leave work to provide care.

South African entrepreneur and council member Wendy Luhabe said since women are not encouraged to enter the workplace in many parts of the world, proposed reforms are often neglected, not carried out.

“There are very good policies, but they don’t get translated because we step back and assume someone else will make that happen,” she said.

Luhabe, who founded an investment company that runs a business training program for women, , suggested more educational programs as a way to spark interest in entrepreneurship for women.

To deal with the issue of women controlling their own finances in countries like India, Meera Sanyal of Bank India pitched providing banking options solely for women. Most Indian women don’t keep their own accounts, meaning money they earn can be used by their husbands or families.

“People need to have access to basic savings,” Sanyal said. “Many women have said, ‘Look, we’d like to save 50 rupees per week because if we don’t save it, it will get taken away.’ If it’s in a bank account, it can get saved up.”

Following the forum, Clinton pointed out the challenges and stereotypes women in business still face, reminding the council of its goals going forward.

“We all live with [stereotypes]… One of the challenges of the 21st century is to overcome them,” she said. “I think that how we crack that cultural code is one of the real challenges we still face. This has been, for me, tremendously stimulating. I’m very excited for the work ahead.”