All on Board for Gender Equality


Launch of Gender reports (OECD and BIAC)

Remarks by Angel Gurría, OECD Secretary-General

OECD, 22 May 2012,

Dear Michelle, Charles, Ambassador Kornbluh, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure to present our report on the OECD Gender Initiative and to welcome the BIAC report, rightly called “Putting All Our Minds to Work, Harnessing the Gender Dividend”. In the current economic situation, where all countries are striving for growth, we can not afford to neglect the potential contribution of women to growth and development. Gender equality is a key factor in well-being, and an untapped source of growth.

A lot of international organisations, countries, and non-governmental organisations have been active on this agenda for a long time. And there has been some significant progress in this respect.

Look at education: more young women go to school than ever before, and women are also catching up at university: in 2009, nearly 60% of graduates in the OECD area were female; by 2025 it could be closer to 70%. In developing countries, though, there is still much to be done to get -- and keep -- girls at school.
Yet, even when they gain access to education, girls remain much less likely to choose classes in sciences, technology, engineering and mathematics than boys. If they do, they are less likely to take up careers in these fields, which offer better career and earning prospects. Let us be clear: this is not based on abilities. The answer lies in gender stereotyping at a young age, taking place at home, at school, and in the community.

Apart from education, progress has been quite slow. This report shows that the glass is indeed still half-empty. Women work less, their employment rates are 13 percentage points lower than for men across the OECD, and they are much more likely to work part-time. They also earn less, with a stubbornly high wage gap of 16% on average in OECD. Finally, women are more likely to end their live in poverty.

So more needs to be done. The question is where to start and how to trigger change?

The good news is that policies have a role to play. They can somehow change the rules of the game, raise public awareness of gender biases, modify the incentives by developing family-friendly policies and promote change. Governments should first of all carefully craft and evaluate policies designed to ensure equal opportunity.

We also need affordable childcare, and equal sharing of housework. Tensions between work and family life are indeed at the heart of the employment puzzle. As long as women bear the brunt of unpaid household tasks, childcare, and caring for ageing parents, it will be difficult to realise their full potential in paid work. We need a better sharing of these tasks. So change has to start in the home. But policy can support such change, for example, through parental leave that explicitly include fathers, and once again, affordable childcare.

To break the glass-ceiling, boardroom quotas can be effective, even if they are not an ideal instrument. Today only 10% of board members and one-third of managers are women. Target setting, compliance with codes, monitoring and publication of progress are indeed useful and probably necessary, but might not be sufficient.

To encourage female entrepreneurship, we first need more data and analysis to explain why women remain substantially under-represented and why, when they do start a business, this tends to be of smaller size, in a limited range of sectors, and often at low capital intensity. Access to credit seems to also be a significant obstacle.

To make progress happen, we need strong champions and to forge smart alliances.

This is why we count on Michele Bachelet who leads the effort in the UN. She is, for us, a critical partner. We will be working hand-in-hand with UN Women to follow up on this report.

This is also why we are so happy to present our report in coordination with the BIAC report. Our sincere thanks go to Charles Heeter, who mobilised the support of the business community. Employers can -- and should -- indeed play a crucial role to move this agenda forward.  Business and policy-makers need to work together much more closely to achieve greater gender equality. BIAC’s report is an important contribution to this endeavour.

Last but not least, this is why we thank Ambassador Kornbluh, one of the authors of the famous Shriver Report in the US. She mobilised support and enthusiasm not only in the United States, but also among other members of the OECD. 

Ladies and gentlemen,
We still have a long way to go to achieve true gender equality and full economic empowerment of women. But I am confident that we are on the right track and that the OECD’s policy messages outlined in this report will help us move forward to tackle the remaining obstacles.


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