OECD Secretary-General

Barbershop Conference at the OECD: Getting men to mobilise for gender equality


Remarks by Angel Gurría

OECD Secretary-General

Tuesday, 2 October 2018 - Paris, France

(As prepared for delivery) 


Minister Thórdarson, Ambassadors, Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am delighted to welcome you to the “Barbershop Conference at the OECD”. Allow me to begin by thanking the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Iceland, Mr. Gudlaugur Thór Thórdarson, for co-hosting our discussion.

Today we are here to have a frank conversation about gender equality, about the role of men in perpetuating gender inequality and how men can help resolve it.


Progress on achieving gender equality has been slow

In recent years some progress has been made in closing gender gaps. For example, many countries have introduced pay transparency measures to close the pay gap; some have introduced paternity leave; and OECD countries have prioritised tackling violence against women.

But progress has been way too slow. The glass ceiling persists, with too few women on company boards or as CEOs; in fact, less than 5% of CEOs and only 20% of board members were women in 2016 [in OECD]. In a similar vein, women constituted fewer than 30% of ministers and parliamentarians in 2017 [in OECD]. And as of today, only one OECD country (Switzerland) has fully banned girl child marriages.

Moreover, at home, women do two-thirds of unpaid care and domestic work, including childcare. Even in couples with two full-time earners, women often do far more than half of the housework and childcare. In my country, Mexico, women face one of the highest burdens of unpaid labour in the OECD; they shoulder, on average, nearly 77% of all unpaid housework and childcare in their households. And, in this day and age, still 34% of the population, on average across OECD countries, believes that children will suffer if mothers are working outside the home.


We need a greater focus on engaging men…

We have to tackle this kind of thinking. Consciously or not, or simply as part of societal expectations, customs and norms, men perpetuate gender inequality. These stereotyped gender attitudes also box men into gender roles, affecting their career and life choices – on average, only 18% of primary school teachers are men across the OECD.

Here’s an interesting example. The Social Institutions and Gender Index (SIGI) country study in Burkina Faso indicates that 92% of the population cannot imagine a man as anything but a breadwinner, and 33% of the population declares that men are not worthy of consideration if they perform unpaid domestic and care activities.

Tackling these challenges requires concrete policy action that focuses on targeting and engaging men. For example, while we recommend initiatives to get more girls interested in Science, Technology, engineering and Mathematics (STEM); we are also strong advocates of better engaging low-achieving boys in school, and of policies to get more boys interested in fields of work that are dominated by women – such as those promoted by the Netherlands and Germany.

Moreover, parental leave and flexible working should be real options for fathers too. But simply introducing a right to parental leave for fathers is not enough. In many countries, fathers account for less than one in five of those taking parental leave, and even when they do, most men often take just a few days.

As such, providing father-specific leave helps increase men’s uptake of parental leave. For example, in Iceland and Sweden, the “daddy quota” has led to a doubling in the number of parental leave days taken by men. But it’s important to also ensure that paternity leave makes sense financially for households and is not frowned upon.

Beyond this, it is also important to remember that real change will not happen without a shift in gender norms and stereotypes. This requires not only change in education and family policies, but also change at the individual level: all of us need to reflect on our biases and make changes in our day-to-day life.

In this respect, some countries are supporting this reflection by introducing nation-wide awareness campaigns and programmes to change male behaviour. One prime example is the Barbershop Conference series which is a great way to raise awareness, and I congratulate Iceland for making it such a visible success.


…Starting in our own workplaces

At the OECD, we are also making targeted efforts to engage our staff members in promoting gender equality. Let me provide some concrete examples:


  • We have extended paid paternity leave to 4 weeks and offer a number of flexible working arrangements, such as flexitime and teleworking, equally accessible to men and women. 

  • We have made concerted efforts to ensure we include multiple women in shortlists for recruitment and promotions. We are strongly focused on achieving gender parity in shortlists, particularly for leadership roles. We also make sure that we have diverse selection panels.

  • We offer unconscious bias workshops and self-paced learning resources are available for staff members to learn how to identify blind spots in decision-making.

  • Earlier this year, we were awarded the EDGE certification – the leading global standard for gender equality. 

  • And two key internal OECD groups focused on gender equality also look to engage male staff: Friends of Gender Equality Plus – which brings together many of the people in this crowd – and the OECD Women’s Network.

These and other actions will have incremental benefits for our Organisation.

Ambassadors, Ladies and Gentlemen,

We have a long way to go to close these gaps. In the words of Prime Minister Trudeau “I will keep saying I’m a feminist until there is no reaction”.

Today’s conversation relies on us being humble and honest, able to listen, and willing to learn from our own mistakes. I hope that this Barbershop Conference sparks many more conversations on this topic. Thank you.



See also:

OECD work on Social and Welfare Issues


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