Gender Dynamics: How Can Countries Close the Economic Gender Gap?


World Economic Forum Annual Meeting

Remarks by Angel Gurría, OECD Secretary-General

Davos, Switzerland, 25 January 2013 

(As prepared for delivery)


Ladies and Gentlemen, 


I am delighted to participate in this session of the Forum on Gender Dynamics. I congratulate the Women Leaders and Gender Parity Programme for launching the country Task Forces and for this important initiative that involves the public and the private sector in reducing the gender gap.

As shown by this morning’s discussion, comparing data and policies across countries provides us with crucial insights on the most effective strategies for closing the economic gender gap.

Last December the OECD launched the report “Closing the Gender Gap: Act Now” and the new OECD Gender Data Portal, which provide exactly this type of analysis.

I am even more delighted because last year the OECD joined the Global Agenda Council on Women’s Empowerment of the World Economic Forum and since then it has participated in several of its activities. There are many synergies between our respective gender activities and I hope that we will be able to strengthen the ties even more and join forces to make change happen on the ground.

Let me share with you some of the key findings from our report:

Gains in female educational attainment have played an important role in economic growth. These gains accounted for roughly one quarter of economic growth in OECD countries between 1960 and 2008. Furthermore, one additional year of average education would raise output per capita by around 10% per year.

Similarly, gains in female education have led to a worldwide increase in women’s employment which is crucial for economic growth. On average across the OECD, if female labour force participation rates converged to that of men by 2030, we could see and overall increase of 12% in GDP.

Despite progress in education and labour force participation, considerable gender gaps remain in:

  • the number of working hours: 24.5% of women  vs. 8.2% of men are part-time workers
  • occupations and sectors: women account for 78% of the work force in health and social work and 70% in education
  • earnings: among full-time employees, women earn 16% less than men in the OECD
  • career progression: women account for less than a third of senior managers in the OECD and only one women for every 10 men gets to the boardroom
  • entrepreneurs: only 2% of working women are entrepreneurs, 6% of men.

How can countries close the economic gender gap?: Policy options

Governments can do a lot to increase financial support to working families, as shown by the experience of Nordic countries and France.

A key factor promoting employment among parents is making parental leave entitlements more gender balanced. Many countries extend parental leave entitlements to fathers and often reserve parts of the parental leave for them.

Providing more access to good and affordable formal childcare for children of pre-school age is particularly important. Childcare support is associated with higher full-time female employment. The greatest female employment and childcare enrolment rates are observed in the Nordic countries, the biggest investors in public formal childcare services. They need to be affordable, good quality and flexible in terms of hours.

Encouraging firms to offer more family-friendly workplace benefits and flexible working arrangements helps mothers and fathers combine work and care commitments more effectively. Measures include part-time work, flexible starting and finishing hours and teleworking.

The gender balance at board levels can be improved by measures such as corporate governance codes and target-setting for leadership positions, in both public and private sectors. The Norwegian experience shows that quotas for women in executive and supervisory boards can be effective.

To make further improvements in education, countries should make subjects equally attractive for girls and boys; make sure that young people understand the likely consequences of educational choices on career and earnings prospects; and encourage women who have completed scientific studies to work in these fields rather than opt for teaching, as it happens in many cases today.

Last but not least, countries should address cultural barriers and the stereotyping of women’s roles in society, business and the public sector.

Closing the gender gap is a key priority, not only for achieving sustainable economic growth, but also because it is about fairness and equity.

We cannot wait any longer; further action is needed, particularly in face of the ageing of the population and the global economic crisis which are putting additional pressures to the gender equality agenda.

The cooperation between the OECD and the World Economic Forum is important to promote gender equality around the world. Together, we can leverage our networks in governments and private sectors and create driving forces that promote policy action and real change.

The three task forces in Japan, Turkey and in my own country, Mexico, are a great start. All three are OECD countries, we can thus help with detailed research and best practices.

We may also want to consider organizing joint events in these and other countries.

I look forward to your comments and ideas on how to face this challenge together.

Thank you. 


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