Ames Room. By Ian Stannard on Flickr. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/
This decade has seen a veritable revolution in public policy to strengthen women’s economic participation. That revolution is due in part to data that reveal severe disparity in how men and women experience work and entrepreneurship.
In 2006, about the time that The Economist declared the economic underutilization of women a “matter of consequence,” global institutions unveiled tools that reveal the depth and impact of that underuse. The World Economic Forum’s annual Global Gender Gap report and the World Bank’s Doing Business gender project (now the biennial Women, Business and the Law) show how failing to engage the economic potential of women undercuts prosperity. The UN, the OECD, the IFC and others have joined the chorus. And since 2010, a number of central governments have taken heed:
One hates to introduce a “but” in response to all this good news on government support of women’s economic empowerment. But—
So what’s wrong with this picture?
As governments encourage women to join the economy and to enter the ranks of managers, entrepreneurs, professionals, board members, and public sector leaders, they must not forget the imperative of gender equality.
Those creating laws designed to support working mothers, for example, should be mindful that children also have fathers. If the goal is to secure childcare while both mom and dad are working, why tie the benefit to women only? Nor should government restrict women’s hours of work and other employment conditions in ways that do not apply to men. However well-intended, such restrictions reinforce stereotypes, drive up the cost of employing women, and even shut women out of certain jobs entirely.
Finally, why send women into retirement earlier than men? The one gap in women’s favor, and one likely to remain for decades to come, is that they tend to live longer.
Louise Williams is a Principal Associate at Nathan Associates. She studies women's economic empowerment and has designed and led reviews of conditions for women’s economic participation in Papua New Guinea, Chile, and the APEC economies and ASEAN member states. Earlier in her career, Louise was a lawyer in private practice and with the U.S. Department of Commerce.