Launch of the book “Gender Balance, When Men Step Up”


Remarks by Angel Gurría

Secretary General, OECD

Paris, 1 April 2016

(As prepared for delivery)



Ambassadors, Ladies and Gentlemen,


I am delighted to be here to launch this contribution to gender equality, Gender Balance, When Men Step Up.


For so many women, pursuing the educational track or career they aspire to is a struggle. It can be a struggle against societal pressures, against discrimination, against stereotyping, all too often against harassment. It can be a struggle to balance working hours with family responsibilities. And it can be a struggle to make men understand all this, understand the inequalities women face as well as how men themselves can benefit from greater equality. This is concerning, because to deliver gender equality we need men fully on board.


You have just heard from three men who are fully on board, and who are leading by example. Thank you Gianmarco, Michel, and Imad for sharing your experience. Taken with the insights in the book, on corporate culture, masculine identity, mentoring, gender bias and work-life balance, to name just a few areas, we are getting a good picture of the problem and how to fix it.


But we have to start by acknowledging the scale of the problem: only 5 OECD countries reach or exceed, in both lower and upper houses, the 30% critical mass of women recommended by the United Nations and the Inter-Parliamentary Union to effectively influence policy outcomes. In Europe, women occupy just a third (34%) of the highest ranking civil service jobs. And in business, women make up 41% of the workforce in organisations globally, but only 12% of board seats among the world’s largest companies. Women hold less than 5% of CEO positions and less than a quarter of senior management roles in S&P 500 firms. At the current pace, it will take 81 years to achieve gender balance in corporate leadership.


This is terrible, and what’s more, it’s bad for business.


The OECD is making the case for gender equality


Gender equality is one of the key factors for growth, shared prosperity and good business. It promotes a better use of skills and talent, it increases social cohesion and it strengthens our culture. The participation of women in our economies is indispensable to promote global well-being.  


This is why the OECD is working intensively in this area. A few weeks ago, on International Women’s Day, I launched the OECD Recommendation of the Council on Gender Equality in Public Life 2015. This builds on our 2013 OECD Recommendation on Gender Equality in Education, Employment and Entrepreneurship, with a focus on implementation. And the recently updated G20/OECD Principles of Corporate Governance endorsed at the G20 Summit in Antalya last November provide countries with measures to improve gender balance on boards and in senior-level corporate positions.


Together, these set out how disclosure requirements, quotas, voluntary targets, for example, can improve representation. They set out how better enactment of equity laws and regulations, better auditing and effective independent complaint and legal recourse mechanisms can help tackle the wage gap. How more family-friendly policies and working conditions, from greater flexibility to more affordable early childcare provision can increase participation.


We are also continuing to measure progress towards the G20’s 25x25 commitment to reduce the current gap in participation between men and women in G20 economies by 25% by 2025, potentially bringing more than 100 million women into the labour force.


But it’s also key to address problems much earlier. The OECD’s ABC of Gender Equality in Education: Aptitude, Behaviour, Confidence is helping policymakers and education professionals understand and tackle deeply entrenched stereotypes, which can prevent girls from following their dreams, talents and ambitions.


But this is not just about empowering women and girls, men also stand to gain from gender equality. Men benefit from stronger growth, but also from a greater freedom to choose the life, goals and careers they want, without stereotyped expectations. Freedom to be engineers, business leaders, teachers, nurses, or stay-at-home parents.


For this we need a double approach: we need to break down stereotypes, and we need to provide men and women with similar incentives to work.


Getting the incentives right


As things stand now, the right incentives are not always in place. Take paternity leave, as an example. In spite of efforts, many fathers in OECD countries do not take parental leave, often in part for financial reasons. Yes, Mark Zuckerberg and David Cameron did take paternity leave, but most fathers in OECD countries prefer to continue working, considering that women still get paid about 15% less than men, on average in OECD countries, while parental leave is paid at a fraction of earnings or not paid at all.


So it’s not surprising that the number of fathers opting for parental leave increases the more it is paid. The father quotas in Iceland and Sweden are relatively well paid at over 60% of last earnings. A 2007 policy reform in Germany introduced well-paid bonus months for partners; resulting in the share of children whose father took leave rising by over 50% in Germany between 2008 and 2013, reaching 32%.


Incentives need to be accompanied by new cultures of equality


Beyond incentives, gender stereotypes and certain cultural traditions can also present obstacles to men “stepping up”. A 2013 survey by Korean trade unions found that amongst Korean fathers who chose not to take paternity leave, more than half were worried about negative prejudices. In France, where men represent only 4% of parents claiming parental leave benefits, almost 50% of the fathers who did not use their full entitlement said that they were simply “not interested”.


This can be partly explained by corporate culture. Misguided employers may consider a father taking long parental leave to be uncommitted to his job, leading fathers to fear for their career prospects. These attitudes vary from country to country, but even in countries with a stronger record on gender equality, such as Sweden, working in a small workplace or one with a culture of long-hours can prevent fathers from “stepping up”.


Ladies and Gentlemen,


Whatever our countries, whatever our sectors, in the words of Malala Yousafzai, “we cannot all succeed when half of us are held back”. We all want a fair society, we all need inclusive growth to deliver a better future. For that to happen we need gender equality in business, we need it in public life, we need it in SMEs and amongst the self-employed, we need it in the classroom, we need to close the gender pay gap and end discrimination. Books like this are helping take us there, the OECD is working hard to take us there. We won’t stop until we get there. Thank you.



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