The Australian economy could increase 12%, or by a massive $US225 billion a year ($297 billion at current exchange rates), if we could advance women’s equality, according to McKinsey Global Institute’s latest research.
That’s a lot of opportunity we’re missing out on, and once again an excellent figure to quote to those not yet convinced of the need to do more to support women in the workforce.
And that support is particularly needed for women aged 24 to 35 who have children, where the workforce participation rate is 75%, compared to the male participation rate of 91%. A larger number of women in this cohort stop working in Australia than in other Asia Pacific countries.
Unfortunately, there are a number of significant structural impediments standing in the way. One being the expensive and inflexible nature of childcare, and another being the continued burden of unpaid work that women take on.
There’s also the gender pay gap, creating more incentive for fathers to be in the workforce than mothers.
Australia lags behind the Philippines, New Zealand and Singapore in the Asia Pacific region on workplace gender equality; however, we do rate best in region on educational attainment and financial and digital inclusion. Australian women make up 46% of the labour force, which matches the global average but is behind the US, Canada and Singapore.
We could achieve that 12% GDP increase by matching the “best in region” on workforce gender equality.
But the report authors note the inequality on political representation is still a major issue in Australia, while progress has stagnated on female workforce participation and gender wage gaps:
“Increasing female labour-force participation is crucial to delivering the GDP opportunity. Achieving this — especially for Australian mothers — will require action on three fronts: improving marginal financial incentives to work, spreading best practices in workplace policies, and shifting attitudes about gender roles.”
The report also finds that the Asia Pacific region, by advancing women’s equality, could add a collective $4.5 trillion to annual GDPs in 2025, which would be a 12% increase over the business-as-usual trajectory. It found that 58% of such potential growth would come from raising women’s workforce participation rates, while further gains would be made from putting women in higher-productive sectors, and boasting the work hours of women.
The largest relative GPD opportunity is in China, which stands to gain $2.6 trillion.
While McKinsey says that governments and companies need to tailor initiatives to support change in each country, it identified five key priority areas:
- Focus on boosting women’s labour-force participation while addressing their unpaid work.
- Address women’s underrepresentation in business leadership positions.
- Improve women’s access to digital technology and financial services.
- Shift attitudes about women’s roles and work in society.
- Collaborate on regional solutions.
This article was first published by Women’s Agenda.