The front page of The Australian newspaper today carries some welcome news. Addressing the global gender gap is likely to be considered at G20 leaders summit taking place in Brisbane later this month.
David Crowe and David Uren reported:
“Australia is building support among G20 nations to close the gender gap in workforce participation in the hope of lifting women out of temporary or unpaid work and into secure jobs.
Central to the agenda is a target to reduce the gender gap by 25 per cent by 2025 and add billions of dollars to economic growth as well as tackling inequality.
For Australia, the target would mean the creation of an additional 300,000 jobs for women, lifting the numbers participating in the workforce from 58 per cent of adult women to 61 per cent.
Across the G20 nations, that would translate into more than 100 million new jobs for women.”
Hallelujah! Aside from the fact individual women stand to benefit from world leaders actively tackling the issue of female workforce participation (not to mention companies, governments and families) there is a considerable economic upside to be discovered.
The Grattan Institute has found that even modest improvements in the extent to which women participate in the economy could boost GDP by about $25 billion in 2025. With gains like that on the table, is it any wonder it’s being considered?
Until today’s news I wasn’t sure it would be.
Just last week, prompted by a speech the managing director of the IMF Christine Lagarde delivered in Japan called ‘The Economic Power of Women’s Empowerment’, I spoke with Anne Summers on the topic of getting gender on the G20 agenda.
“I don’t know whether there will be any scope for this at G20 which is a shame because, as Lagarde talks about, when we empower women economically, nations benefit,” Summers told Women’s Agenda. “It needs to be integrated in the main agenda. If the G20 focus is on growth – then here you go.”
We might have been premature in anticipating this wouldn’t be embraced by world leaders later this month. Perhaps Lagarde’s arguments are gaining traction?
In a speech excerpted in in the latest issue of the Anne Summers Reports Lagarde very clearly articulates the relationship between economic growth and the economic empowerment of women.
“…We will need all the economic growth, dynamism and ingenuity we can get in the years ahead. Thankfully, a key part of the solution is staring us right in the face—unleashing the economic power of women. Bringing the world’s largest excluded group into the fold,” Lagarde explained in Japan in September.
Beyond the realm of sexism and feminism, as Lagarde explains there is a legitimate problem and opportunity with women’s participation in the economy.
“To some degree or other, women everywhere face barriers to flourishing and achieving their potential,” Lagarda said. “Gender gaps in labour force participation exist all over the world—ranging from 12 percent in the OECD economies to 50 percent in the Middle East and North Africa.”
Lagarde notes that it is curious that this workforce “gap” persists despite substantial improvements in the education of young women.
“Globally, women earn only three-quarters as much as men—this is true even with the same level of education, and in the same occupation.”
She argues that unleashing the potential of women in the economy requires change in three categories: economic policies, laws and institutions, and attitudes and culture.
“Countries can lift up women by adopting more pro-female, pro-family, approaches. Such policies include moving more from family to individual taxation; providing more affordable child-care and parental leave; and allowing for more flexible working arrangements,” she said. “We know that these policies can work. We have the evidence.”
Sweden devotes a full one percent of GDP to childcare and pre-primary school spending and has one of the highest female participation rates in the world.
In the Netherlands, female labor participation rose sharply over the past few decades as part-time work was given the same status as full-time work—the same social security coverage, the same employment protection, the same rules.
Chile saw its female labor force participation rise by 20 percentage points over the past quarter century, driven in part by large increase in social spending, including on early childhood education and childcare, and the increase in maternity leave.
“And the benefit is clear: when we boost the participation of women, we boost the growth potential of a country,” Lagarde says.
She has been stating this case emphatically for some time.
“I am particularly interested in how outspoken she’s been on women’s empowerment, ” Anne Summers says. “It’s very significant for a couple of reasons. She’s the first women to hold the head position at the IMF. She’s had a high profile roles before but this position is mega. The issues of gender is not off to the side in terms of economic growth and [Lagarde] strikes me as being extremely impressive in the focused manner in which she goes about highlighting that.”
Lagarde will be one of four women attending the G20 in Brisbane and personally my fingers will be crossed that her methodical and persuasive arguments only gain further traction.
When you consider the potential gains wouldn’t they be mad not to consider closing the gap?