12th September 2014
The leader of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has called for countries to change policies to unleash the economic potential of women.
Christine Lagarde, head of the IMF, said countries need to ‘unleash the economic power and potential of women’ by changing economic policies, laws and institutions, and attitudes and culture.
Speaking in Japan, she said it was clear that women were being ‘locked out’ of leadership positions ‘where gender seems to a matter more than ability’ as women make up just 5% of Fortune 500 chief executive and only 24% of senior management positions around the world.
‘Clearly, the global economy is not using its productive resources very effectively,’ she said. ‘It is tossing away economic growth at a time when it cannot afford such wanton waste. This needs to change.
‘The benefits of greater inclusion are clear – not just for women, but for all of us. For a start, women are the ultimate agents of aggregate demand, accounting for 70% of global consumer spending. So if we want growth, let us put women in the driver’s seat.’
In order to help women help the economy, there needed to be ‘more pro-female, pro-family approaches’, including affordable child care and more parental leave, as well as flexible working arrangements.
Lagarde used Sweden to illustrate how increased spending on childcare helps women into work and therefore benefits the economy.
‘Sweden devotes a full 1% of GDP to childcare and pre-primary spending- more than most other countries. It also takes workplace flexibility very seriously. It is no coincidence that Sweden has one of the highest female (workplace) participation rates in the world,’ said Lagarde.
Overall, she said a shift in attitude was needed to ensure that women can become economically empowered.
‘Changing policy cannot fix everything. Changing laws and institutions cannot fix everything,’ she said. ‘We also need to change attitudes away from a male-dominated culture, to make it more open and receptive to the great contributions offered by women – in society in general, and in business in particular.
‘This means knocking down the outdated obstacles that hold women back. In part, that means taking diversity seriously – ‘daring the different’, as I call it. It means taking a leap of faith in hiring women, promoting women, investing in women.’