Friday, October 24, 2014

The Three E's to Reach Equality: Education, Employment and Entrepreneurship

At this week’s WAPPP seminar, Monika Queisser, the Head of the Social Policy Division at the OECD's Directorate of Employment, Labour and Social Affairs, made the economic case for gender equality. Her presentation "Progress and Policies to Achieve Gender Equality in Education, Employment and Entrepreneurship," was based off of the OECD 2012 report of a similar name. The report focuses on what Queisser calls “the three E’s” – Education, Employment and Entrepreneurship.

Education is a top focus of the report because it’s the pathway to employment across the world. The OECD reports that more girls are attending school than ever before. Every one-year increase in a population’s average education level accounts for a 9% increase in GDP per capita. But not all education is created equal. Women are severely underrepresented in STEM, where graduates have the most potential for future earnings and career development. Currently, 70% of engineering graduates are men. This contributes to the persistent global pay gap. Women earn an average of 16% less than men, and this gap rises to 21% among top wage earners.

Queisser argued that gender equality strengthens the labor force and boosts the economy for everyone in turn. The aging population and falling fertility rate in most OECD countries currently leads to a shrinking labor force. To remedy this, there is a need for more migration and/or for women to participate at higher rates. We must break down the economic barriers that are holding women back from full participation, Queisser argued. More women need to work, and those that want to should be able to work full-time.

The report found that when a couple has their first child, women tend to start reducing their paid work hours, while men start increasing them. Women make up for this loss in paid hours by increasing their unpaid work. Though policies could and should help change this, a cultural shift is also necessary. Even in countries with progressive maternity leave policies and strong social welfare, such as the Netherlands, there is still a cultural norm for women to work part-time.

In the report, the OECD laid out recommendations to achieve gender equality in these three areas. Gender equality in education attainment and choices should be promoted, though Queisser admitted that it's hard to alter the choices that children make because of deep-seated biases in our culture. Increasing the number of women in decision-making positions, instituting paid maternity leave, actively reduce the wage gap and implementing family friendly policies for women who are self-employed are all crucial for achieving gender equality in these areas. In addition, countries are encouraged to produce gender-specific data and monitor progress on this issue.

In closing, Queisser said her central question is always how the countries that are doing well got to where they are today. She used a popular example for how policy can dramatically change culture. Iceland, which created a positive tax credit for second earners who are women in the 1960s, consistently tops the World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Index. Queisser, a self-described optimist, argued that a combination of improved policy and shifts in our cultural norms could bring us closer to gender equality in this century.

Photo Source: OECD

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