Gender Parity in the Workforce

Gender Parity in the Workforce

Kevin Coombs/Reuters
from State and Local Webinars

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Women and Economic Growth


United States

Jamille Bigio, senior fellow in the Women and Foreign Policy program at CFR, discusses gender parity in the workforce.

Learn more about CFR’s State and Local Officials initiative.


Jamille Bigio

Senior Fellow, Women and Foreign Policy Program, Council on Foreign Relations 


Irina A. Faskianos

Vice President, National Program and Outreach, Council on Foreign Relations

FASKIANOS: Good afternoon from New York, and welcome to the Council on Foreign Relations State and Local Conference Call series. I’m Irina Faskianos, Vice President for the National Program and Outreach at CFR. Thank you for being with us today. As you may know, the CFR State and Local Officials initiative series is serving as an authoritative politically independent resource, and for bipartisan discussion on pressing international issues, that affect the priorities and agendas of state and local governments. Today’s conversation, opening remarks with Jamille Bigio will be on the record, and then our question and answer session, that will follow, will be not for attribution, so we can have a more candid discussion. We’re delighted to have Jamille Bigio with us today to talk about gender parity in the workforce. She’s a senior fellow in the Women and Foreign Policy Program here at CFR. She previously served as director for human rights and gender on the White House National Security Council staff. She also served as a senior advisor to the U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, Melanne Verveer, within the Office of the Secretary of State. She led the interagency launch of the US National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security, an effort for which she was recognized with the US Department of State’s Superior Honor Award and the US Department of Defense Secretary’s Honor Award. So with that, I would like thank you, Jamille, for being with us today. It is terrific to have you and people from around the country joining the call. CFR’s Women in Foreign Policy Program recently released an interactive report on workforce equality around the world, which you all can access on our website, Jamille, I thought it would be great if you could start by talking about the economic benefits of gender parity in the workforce.

BIGIO: Wonderful. Well, thank you, Irina. And thank you all for joining us today, to have to have the opportunity to talk to you all about gender parity in the workforce in the United States. So as Irina mentioned, I come from foreign relations and from a foreign policy program that looks at the status of women and girls around the world, including the United States, and how elevating that status will advance growth and prosperity. And that’s something that we know that no country and no state or city can get ahead by leaving 50 percent of its population behind. So as we look at the economic benefits of women’s workforce participation, here we now, we’ve seen a growing and strong body of evidence demonstrating that women’s economic participation improves prosperity, not only for women, but for everyone. Major financial institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, have shown that women’s participation in the economy reduces poverty and grows GDP. As Irina mentioned, our program recently launched two new reports. One is entitled, "Growing Economies Through Gender Parity". And there, we can circulate the link afterwards. But this visualizes the relationship between women’s economic participation and GDP growth. And it shows that by closing the gender gap in the workforce could add a staggering $28 trillion to global GDP. And this is not only in developing countries that would benefit, the United States, the US economy, would grow by $4.3 trillion or 19 percent by 2025, if we close the gender gap between men and women at work. And this comes out to more than a $13,000 per person increase in per capita income. And the McKinsey Global Institute has this data broken down by state as well. So you can see what the estimates are for your states of what the economic gains would be if women participated in greater numbers in the workforce. And one thing they documented is that all states can increase their GDP by at least 5 percent in a best-in-class scenario, where you’re just improving, not to even full parity, but you’re just improving rates of women’s participation in the labor force, increasing the hours that they work, increasing the roles and levels that they serve at. But there are significant barriers that are preventing women from participating despite the benefits. And the increase we see as breaking down along structural, legal and cultural obstacles that keep women out of the workforce. And this is everything from the significant load of unpaid care work that predominantly women hold, so time that is spent on unpaid care work is time not spent on paid work that would generate income and contribute to reducing poverty and growth in states. We see challenges in the US for single mothers, teenage pregnancy, also issues around political participation that affects the kinds of legislation and policies that cities, states and countries pursue, and how these respond to addressing the structural and cultural barriers preventing women from engaging in the workforce. We also see gaps in leadership and managerial positions in the United States, where women are significantly underrepresented still in the leadership roles. This not only affects the bottom line for companies. It’s been documented that companies with greater diversity in management roles on their boards have higher returns. But that lack of diversity also affects the policies and the effectiveness of state governments of institutions of organizations pursuing their mandates. In the United States, looking at what workforce participation, what the data is, in 2000, women’s labor force participation rate was 77.3 percent. And it’s actually dropped since then. So as of September 2017, it was 75.2 percent, compared to 88.6 percent for men. So we see some quite sobering statistics when we look at what’s happening with rates of women’s labor force participation in the United States. Working married women bring home 44 percent of their family’s income, and this relates to issues around equal pay, women being more likely to work part time. We also see to that point that women perform 64 percent of part-time jobs in the United States and only 42 percent of fulltime jobs. We’ll talk about some of the specific barriers that are keeping women out of the workforce and thereby removing a partner and an actor that would help again reduce poverty and advance economic growth in their state. There’s been a lot of thinking and some really innovative work done at state levels to try to address some of these structural and cultural and legal barriers. So to strengthen employee retention, some of the top policy priorities that states are pursuing include paid leave, workplace flexibility, childcare, providing quality, affordable preschool and childcare options, combating workplace discrimination and creating career pathways in low wage jobs to both women in these roles to managerial and leadership opportunities that can lead to higher wages and more advancement opportunities. We’ve also seen increased attention to pathways to quality employment for women, and that includes looking at equal pay, adjusting minimum wage rates. We know that women make up nearly two-thirds of minimum wage workers. So raising the minimum wage in fact would help shrink the gender wage gap. So those are some of the key buckets. So let me now dig in more specifically on a few of these and talk about the benefits and some of the examples of what we’ve seen states do. So first, looking at paid family leave. So just to note here, some of the benefits. One study in the US found that women who use utilize paid family leave are nearly 40 percent less likely to receive public assistance or food stamps in the year following a child’s birth, compared to women who take no leave. Providing family leave increases companies’ retention rates, so Google, in fact, found that when they increased paid maternity leave in 2007 some 12-18 weeks, that it achieved a 50 percent reduction in the rate that working mothers left the company. California was the first state to institute paid leave back in 2002, and a review found that 90 percent of companies in California reported that the policy either had a neutral effect on them or had in fact boosted profits. But despite the benefits, the United States is, in fact, the only advanced economy that does not, at the Federal level, guarantee some form of access to paid maternity, parental, family or sick leave to its workforce. And so this is an area where, in the absence of that, states have been leaders in trying to fill that gap. Four states, California, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island, currently have paid family leave insurance programs being implemented. New York’s is the most generous at 12 weeks when it is fully implemented in 2021. Three additional states have adopted a legislation that will be moving into implementation, and that includes, D.C., Washington State and Massachusetts. We’ve also seen, in the absence of policy covering the state, we’ve seen actions by state governments on their own. For example, in Missouri, in March, the governor signed an executive order granting paid parental leave to employees in the governor’s office or agencies controlled by his appointees. And what follows from is for statewide elected officials and the House of Representatives issued similar executive orders, and so at this point in Missouri, nearly all employees of state agencies are able to take paid time off following birth of adoption of a child. So you see a range of policies both at state level and in the absence, as I said, full legislation, you see some innovation being done through executive orders. Subsidized childcare. So childcare in the United States is another key area. The lack of quality, affordable preschool or childcare options has significant economic implications for families. Without these options, both men and women have limited ability to find and keep jobs. A study by the Department of Health and Human Services in fact found that higher childcare subsidy expenditures significantly increased labor force participation and employment rates of low income mothers in the United States, and likewise, research has shown that women are considerably less likely to leave the labor force when childcare facilities are more readily available. A 2015 survey by The Washington Post found that more than 75 percent of mothers report having passed up work opportunities or quit their jobs in order to tend for their children, where they did not, in some cases, because they opted to do that out of choice, and in some cases, because they did not have access to affordable childcare. And here, the Economic Policy Institute found that childcare costs are one of the most significant expenses in a family budget. In 33 states, infant care is more expensive than college. So again, looking at what can the United States do? Here there’s some policy recommendations that have looked to supplement some of the existing programs. So there is already a Federal program that’s targeting low income families in each state, and that provides a mechanism to provide subsidies, but right now, it is significantly underfunded. So it’s certainly - the tools are not yet used to the full extent to help meet the gaps that families around the country are facing. That’s in turn affecting women’s participation in the workforce. So policy recommendations that have been proposed in this area include making high quality prekindergarten available to all four-year-olds. We’ve seen New York State, for example, pass this, and other states have ensured universal prekindergarten. It’s expanding access to nutritious meals and snacks to children and families that supplement the intention (ph 0:16:07.0), the support given here. In six states, Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, North Carolina, Rhode Island and South Carolina, there’s a program called "Work Support Strategies" that has explored packages of work support for low income families that have included attention to childcare issues. Next area is equal pay. So here to note that on average in the United States, women still earn 77 cents for every dollar earned by men, with women of color earning even less. So African-American American women are paid 64 cents. Latino women, 54 cents for every dollar paid to white non-Latino men. And again, there’s been some innovative state policies to try to address this. So in Missouri, for example, an executive order was signed by the governor to promote gender pay equity in the workplace, by directing both states and agencies and encouraging private sector organizations to use best practice guidelines to identify and address gender wage gaps. There’s more that can be done partner with the private sector to encourage greater attention to workplace flexibility issue, to help improve opportunities for women to stay in the workforce, as they’re juggling their unpaid care work. So there’s one program, for example, a national initiative called "When Work Works", that’s led by the Society for Human Resource Management, that’s helping businesses of all sizes and types transform the way that they view and adopt effective and flexible workplaces. And When Work Works in fact partners with communities and states around the country to share research, employer best practices to inspire more local employers to create more effective and flexible workplaces and provide performance awards to recognize where there are leaders in this area. Another key gap to address is to look at gender disparities in the workforce is workplace harassment. Certainly the Me Too Movement has called attention to the continued issues that, especially women, but also men, face in the workplace when it comes to sexual harassment. And there’s more and more exploration by states and cities of mechanisms that they can - policies, executive orders, legislatures, legislation that they can pursue to help improve accountability and prevention of workplace harassment. In Missouri, the former attorney general committed to a statewide review and partnership with the local foundation to affect existing discrimination and harassment policies across state government. In Kansas, the governor issued an executive order to combat sexual harassment and discrimination in state government. So just a note there that while some may suggest that the laws and policies in place are sufficient, there’s data and analysis that documents that in fact, there are too many gaps in employment policies and state level laws that don’t sufficiently protect workers from discrimination and harassment in the workplace, and so that’s one thing, again, that states are taking on themselves to do that analysis and to look at kind of beyond enforcement of existing US antidiscrimination and equal pay laws, where there may be a small opportunity to strengthen the policy is in individual states. This is something that there’s been, broadly looking at workplace parity and opportunities for women’s economic empowerment. This is something that has been a Federal priority in the last two administrations. In fact, in 2014, the Obama administration, the White House hosted the Summit on Working Families that brought together a whole collection of policy recommendations. We can really dig in in more detail in these areas that we’ve talked about today, looking at ways to improve opportunities for women to strengthen the economic wellbeing of working families and to reduce poverty and promote growth in states. And the Trump administration is developing its own commitments on women’s economic participation, both globally as well as domestically. And they will be launching these in January. So that will be exciting to see what steps they’re taking to try to address the gaps and promote great opportunities for women to participate in the workforce. There’s also lessons to be drawn internationally, and some of these we’ve documented in some of our reports. So just as an example, in Sweden, coming back to paid family leave, Sweden found, even where states and countries institute paternity leave, it’s an area where in the United States and around the world, there’s still cultural barriers around that that prevents many fathers from taking paternity leave, even when they’re eligible for it. Some companies are doing more to - indeed, I think they’re doing more to make sure that men do take that leave. In Sweden, they actually instituted a use or lose policy that there was a segment, I believe, that a family received only if the father took it. And the effect that they found has been impressive. They found that just through that policy of ensuring that fathers took paternity leave, that mothers with previously low incomes had higher salaries.  They found that it had an effect on the wage gap as well, because essentially, that by men taking on more of a role at home through paternity leave, there was a more equal distribution of the unpaid care work moving forward, and fewer women left the workforce. And so they have found that again, for encouraging paternity leave, that it had a ripple effect on issues like women’s unpaid care work for them and the gender pay gap. So I’m going to close there. We can share some of these resources of the interactives that we’ve developed. I’d also point you - there’s the McKinsey Global Institute study from 2014 that looks at gender parity in the United States by 2016, that looks at advancing women’s equality in the United States, that does have state-specific data. So you can explore in your state both what the potential economic gains are, and what some of the specific barriers in your state, and look at some of these examples that we’ve talked about today. There’s been models of what states have done to address some of those gaps and in bring women into the workforce and realize the economic potential that they can provide.

FASKIANOS: Jamille, while we’re waiting for questions and comments, again, we’re living in a time of rapid technological change, which has many communities concerned about the impacts or effects of automation and globalization on the workforce. Did you look at that, and how does gender parity figure into that equation?

BIGIO: Yeah, it’s a great question, and it’s something that as states and the US economy more broadly, as we’re planning the future of work, it is critical to do it, to take the gender lens to that, to look at how automation, how technology and changes in the future of work and how it affects men and women differently, because there will certainly be both benefits and gains that will affect men and women differently by state. And we see this, looking at both some aspects of the future in terms of digital and options and ability to work remotely and greater flexibility. That will provide some opportunities for women who have struggled without flexible schedules. And so having that greater remote opportunity could bring more women into the workforce or into roles that they didn’t have before, so long as we have ensured that there’s some outreach to bring, to ensure women have visibility on those opportunities. But there are other areas where we see sectors losing jobs that women will be disproportionately affected as well. So it’s just an area that as states are assessing the future of work that it is critical to look at how to break that down and to look at that data and those roles by gender.

FASKIANOS: And can you talk a little bit more about the link between access to essential services like healthcare and workforce participation?

BIGIO: Yes. So one thing that the research has shown is that for women to be full participants in at work, they also need to have the opportunity to be full participants in society. And so this is where access to education, access to healthcare, access to the judicial system to ensure they’re able to help ensure that the laws that are protecting them are in fact in force. All of these are factors that impact women’s ability to participate in the workforce. So in fact, states won’t be able to realize the full economic potential that women can contribute to their families and to their communities unless there’s attention to the broader ecosystem that’s affecting women’s equality in the state and society at large. And so again, the McKinsey Global Institute study I pointed to from 2016 looks at gender parity at the state level and identifies state by state where there are inequalities beyond the labor force specifically that would affect the extent to which women are able to participate.

FASKIANOS: You also looked at countries. Could you talk about gender parity around the world? Are there specific lessons that you drew that state and local officials could implement? As you know, state and local governments are working with their cities and countries, so it would be interesting to hear that comparison as well.

BIGIO: Yeah, for sure. So first off, the overall relationship that I talked about, the economic potential and the structural, legal, cultural barriers that are keeping women out of the workforce, this is sadly something that is universal. So there’s no society that has yet realized gender parity in the workforce. And so there is a lot of work, but there are great examples of work being done in countries around the world, both in the public sector and in the private sector to address some of these gaps. So for example, I mentioned Sweden and in the Nordics, we’ve certainly seen provide a full set of support in terms of the subsidized childcare and paid family leave, back pay, and then they’ve seen affect women’s workforce participation and their gender pay gap. Japan is another interesting example. So in 2013, Japan actually adopted a policy that they call "Womenomics". And essentially with demographic changes in Japan, they had a dwindling workforce, and they critically needed to bring other groups into the workforce to be able to sustain their growth. And they did an analysis and recognized that one of the major groups that was significantly underrepresented in the workforce in Japan were women. And so as a core pillar of their national growth strategy, they are now pursuing, again what they call "Womenomics" policy, where they are trying to increase female labor force participation, and they have recognized, as we discussed today, that to do that requires looking at a whole host of issues, both in the workplace itself, but also in the broader ecosystem. So they’ve passed legislation to expand childcare, to eliminate a tax deduction for dependent spouses, so tax incentives certainly play into women’s workplace participation. And those have contributed a rise in the female labor force participation. There are remaining continued challenges around cultural issues that they’re tackling, and that will take time, but they’re pursuing, for the first time, paid leave policies, kind of really ticking down the list of the flexible work environments, combating workplace discrimination, etc. So they’ve got a full national strategy that they’ve laid out to try to bring women into the workforce. And another interactive that we’ve developed that we can share is actually women’s workplace equality index, because one of the issues that has been documented as a barrier are laws. So in fact, over 100 countries around the world restrict the kinds of jobs that women can hold. And so we’ve built some World Bank women business in Milan dataset and have ranked countries around the world for the extent to which the laws, in fact, encourage or are a barrier to women’s equality in the workplace, and it looks at everything from, again, like are there restrictions preventing work, blocking jobs, blocking women from working certain jobs, to do women need the permission of their husbands to work, to paid leave. And the United States actually ranks 20th out of 189 countries on legal protections for women in the workplace. And here, actually the dataset looks at it by the largest commercial capital of the country, so their analysis looks at specifically New York State. And so there, they saw issues such as the law didn’t establish discrimination commission to protect women’s access to courts. In New York, there’s actually no criminal penalties for sexual harassment in the workplace, because this data was collected through 2017. There’s no law supposedly criminalizing marital rape. There’s no law protecting parents to working flexibly, so there’s a questionnaire that the World Bank runs through for each commercial capital, and it’s one that if this is an arear that states are interested in, you could certainly then take that questionnaire and fill it out for your own state and see how it compares to others, kind of see what legal barriers there are in your state that would present obstacles to women being able to participate in the workforce fully.

FASKIANOS: Have there been policy changes as a result of that, implemented either by the workplaces or government, and is there more that can be done?

BIGIO: Yes, so this is obviously a topic that’s generated a huge amount of attention and rightfully so. So I think that the stories that are coming out from workplaces around the country and all types of workplaces from state governments and legislatures to private sectors to low wage jobs that we’ve seen that there continues to be a vast number of incidences of sexual harassment and assaults that are either not prevented obviously, and then when they occur, that there have been gaps in the system to hold staff accountable, to hold individuals accountable and to ensure sort of creating a safer work environment. And too, there’s a whole range of policies that both big governments and private sector corporations are exploring and trying to have drawn some best lessons here. And this ranges from doing that first mapping of what are the anti-discrimination policies, the sexual harassments and protections in the workplace. What policies first exist in the state across the public and private sectors? So doing that first mapping of, are those protections even in place? Are there docs there? That should be filled. Second, there’s attention to training, ensuring that all staff knows what those policies are and know the mechanisms to report if they experience harassment, and ensuring that there’s accountability to make sure that those reporting mechanisms are working well, and that when cases are reported, that they are handled effectively, so that survivors do have access to the support that they need, and that workplaces can ensure that they are effective environments. There’s been a drive to raise money for legal defense funds for women around the country that are looking to push their cases forward, bring their cases forward, so there’s a whole movement of support to also help ensure that when people do raise their hand and report such harassment, that they’re able to receive justice. Another area that I just touch on that relates to the gender pay gap that has effects on the effectiveness of corporations, of state governments, is the disparity at the legal and managerial role. And here there’s some great work and great research, both in the US and around the world, of models to ensure that women are recognized, have training opportunities, advancement opportunities, have mentorship to ensure that they have opportunities to serve in leadership managerial roles, and as I mentioned, the data found that this in fact contributes to corporations’ bottom lines, it improves the effectiveness of state governments to have that diversity.

FASKIANOS: Jamille, thank you very much for your insights today and your analysis. You really left no stone unturned, so we appreciate it. We will share out the links to both reports to you all, and I hope that you will look through them, and if you have questions or comments, please do send them through. You can follow Jamille on Twitter @jamillebigio. You can send questions to her at [email protected] or else to us at [email protected]. We really would love your feedback, other areas that you hope we will cover, ideas for formats and things like that as we are getting this initiative off the ground. So thank you all, thank you, Jamille, again, for today. We appreciate it.

BIGIO: Thank you, and thanks to everybody on the line.   

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