How to Foster Inclusive Growth

Monday, January 8, 2018
A female job seeker takes part in a job hunting counseling session with advisers during a job fair held for fresh graduates in Tokyo, Japan, March 20, 2016. Picture taken March 20, 2016. REUTERS/Yuya Shino TPX
Caroline Atkinson

Chief Policy Advisor, Google Inc.


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

Leading international institutions and private sector corporations have concluded that women’s economic participation is critical to global growth and prosperity. However, nearly 90 percent of nations still have laws on the books that impede women’s work, thereby undermining economic development. During her tenure at the White House, Caroline Atkinson helped to drive global agreements on inclusive growth at major international economic summits, including the commitment by G7 and G20 countries to reduce the gender gap in labor force participation by 25 percent by 2025. She will reflect on countries’ progress in meeting these targets, and the legal, structural, and cultural barriers that must be overcome to build inclusive economies. 

This meeting is part of a high-level series, in collaboration with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, to explore the economic effects of inequality under the law.


BIGIO: Good morning, everybody. Good morning. Thank you all so much for joining us today. We’re so thrilled to have you and so thrilled to have our guest.

My name is Jamille Bigio. I’m a senior fellow here in the Council’s Women and Foreign Policy program. Our program has worked with leading scholars for 15 years to analyze how elevating the status of women and girls advances U.S. foreign-policy objectives, including prosperity and stability.

I want to take a moment before we begin to thank our Advisory Council members who are here with us today, as well as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for its generous support for today’s session.

I also just want to remind everyone that the presentation and question-and-answer period will be on the record.

Today we are focused on inclusive growth. Economic analysis by leading international institutions like the International Monetary Fund and private-sector corporations have concluded that women’s economic participation is critical to global growth and prosperity. In fact, the McKinsey Global Institute estimated that increasing women’s share in the economy would add as much as $28 trillion or 26 percent to global GDP by 2025 if women played fully equal roles to men in labor markets.

But while women are half the world’s population, they generate just 37 percent of global GDP. Why? We know that there are significant legal, structural, cultural barriers that limit women’s participation and undermine what they can contribute to economic growth.

International institutions and governments around the world are starting to recognize that women’s economic participation actually does drive economic growth and is worth the investment in the kinds of policies and programs that will increase it. That recognition is due in part to efforts of leaders like our guest today.

Caroline Atkinson is now the chief policy adviser for Google. Prior to that she was President Barack Obama’s deputy national security adviser for international economics, and she’s held senior roles at the International Monetary Fund, the U.S. Treasury Department, and the Bank of England.

I want to start by noting that while serving at the White House, Caroline led the policy process to prepare for such major international economic summits as the G-7 and the G-20. And it was under her leadership that these summits, for the first time, included a goal related to female labor force participation; specifically, that countries would reduce the gender gap in their labor forces by 25 percent by 2025.

Caroline, let’s start with a foundational question. What does female labor force participation have to do with economic growth?

ATKINSON: Thanks, Jamille.

Before I go to that, I just want to give credit where credit is due, because when we were working in the White House on this goal, we worked very closely with Jamille and her colleagues to figure out what would be a meaningful way to put pressure and put a shining spotlight on this issue. And so it was definitely a joint effort.

As the McKinsey study showed, and the IMF has also done, if women were able to participate and did participate in the labor force to the same extent men did, that would be a major push in GDP and living standards around the world. And the gender gap, as we’ve called it, between male and female labor force participation varies a lot across countries.

The G-20 includes a broad range of different countries, from advanced industrialized to emerging-market economies. But the gender gap, although it may vary from 10 or 15 percent in some countries—France, Canada, and others—to 40 percent in India, Indonesia, is a significant weight on the economy, just like any unemployment or failure of people to be included in the labor forces, such as in some countries, where there is a very important problem with youth unemployment. Any failure to include productive people in the labor force is a hit on economic growth and living standards.

And one other thing. As we saw during the past few decades in the United States, women joining the labor force has been an important support to family incomes. We’ve seen this across countries and it helps children and future generations.

BIGIO: So why do you think it was important for G-7 and G-20 countries to tackle this issue? Why did they select the target of reducing the gender gap in their labor forces by 25 percent by 2025 – and what did it take to reach a consensus on this goal?

ATKINSON: As a woman, and as a woman working in professions that have generally been dominated by men, I’ve always been interested in trying to promote better working conditions, equality, and so on.

At the White House, with President Obama and with the establishment of a priority on women and girls, that was obviously an important part of U.S. policy.

And there was an interesting moment—a little bit of a concern was growing in some countries, Japan is a good example, France another, that aging populations would have an impact on growth, that there would be fewer workers to support nonworkers. And there was this huge pool of nonworkers, women, who could be brought into the labor force.

So Prime Minister Abe began this program or policy of encouraging women. And there was a funny moment—I agreed to speak to Japanese industry about the importance of encouraging women’s participation and how to make that easier, while on a trip to Japan that I was doing with the President.

And Caroline Kennedy and I—she was the ambassador to Japan—were hosting at this roundtable, which the President dropped by, but we were the chairs, if you like, and we were the only two women. The Japanese were telling us how important it was to have female participation and all the rest of it. And I was sitting there thinking, should I say something? Should I not say something? And eventually I decided to say something, and there was all sort of shuffling of their papers about why they were all men.

You would have thought they would have realized to send a woman, maybe. Maybe they simply didn’t have any senior women in their companies.

We then thought, this would be a nice thing to get into the G-20. There’s a sort of formula about these summits that the G-20 is supposed to be about economic growth and so on. And it is importantly about that. And every year people say we must have a much shorter communiqué; we must streamline it; we must just focus on the big issues.

And we always used to say, yes, absolutely right. But secretly we would think it’s a great place to get stuff done, because through the process of the Sherpas, you can jump over some of the experts that have been wrangling with each other across countries, whether trade issues or climate, and have a line to leaders. And then leaders find it much harder to say no in a peer-group setting than to have their negotiators say no. We used to try to get things in there that the U.S. wanted. For example, we got a G-20 summit to address Ebola, which many countries didn’t want to pay attention to.

And so this was like that. There was an opportunity there. It took a lot of work because everybody was able to say, oh, it’s really important to have women in the labor force; yeah, we’re all going to work hard on it. And we were saying let’s have something concrete. We need a number. We need a goal that will both force action and attract attention.

We played around with different kinds of goals—we came up with this idea that wage equality, obviously that’s incredibly important. We also, by the way, have to think of something the U.S. can manage to do. Sometimes meeting ILO standards could be problematic, because the U.S. doesn’t sign up to all of them and so on.

A lot of the analysis suggested this looked like low-hanging fruit. Who can argue that you shouldn’t have more opportunity for women to join the labor force? And then we made it sort of conditional, sensitive to different cultural conditions. The goal was both ambitious but not too ambitious. Every country didn’t have to all get to the same level of female labor participation. They just had to improve their current situation.

So the Chinese came to me and said, well, that’s impossible, because we don’t even want to do that, because part of our development is to be richer and allow women not to have to work. We don’t even like this goal, and it would be very hard for us to convince people.

The other end of the extreme, I think, was that Mexico said it’s impossible. We’re never going to manage to do this.

So it was a lot of hard work to get this goal agreed to. In the end, people get tired of disagreeing. We would love to do it, my counterparts would say, but, our ministry of employment will not agree to it. So then you have to work through the department of labor, to get in touch with their counterparts. And in the end, even in China or Mexico or anywhere else, it’s like the White House is badgering us about this issue. Really, can we not manage to make this commitment? So we got it done in 2014.

In one way, looking at all of the data of what’s happened since that is disappointing, because there’s been some progress, but not that much. And again, as I said, it’s just about participation. There are all these other barriers to women working that are only just being addressed.

But, on the other hand, I like to be a glass-half-full person, especially at shining a spotlight on this issue and then involving the ILO, the IMF, the OECD, and others, and forcing leaders to know that there was a paragraph somewhere that committed them to actions is important and gets the wheels of governments moving.

BIGIO: You’ve highlighted so well what it takes to move countries from the rhetoric, where many are stuck right now, into actual action. It often takes the kind of leadership and commitment that you identified.


BIGIO: You noted some of the barriers that are keeping women out of the workforce—from laws to culture. Can you talk more about what some of these issues are?

ATKINSON: Certainly social and cultural barriers. One of the countries in the G-20 is Saudi Arabia. We know that there are many barriers there. They now allow women to drive. There are very sort of practical things, like it’s hard in some countries, including Japan, to get adequate child care.

In the United States, the Obama administration pushed for paid leave and parental leave. And the lack of that is still astounding. I grew up in Europe, the U.K., and the disparity is striking—the fact that in the United States there is no requirement for government or private companies to do that is a big barrier.

We know that female labor-force participation tends to drop off as women get older and have children. We also know that women do 70 percent of the unpaid work, according to surveys. And I suspect there’s some flexibility in that. So when a woman is doing a full-time job and then coming home and doing the bulk of the unpaid work to keep the home going—there’s only so many hours in a day.

Another barrier is the straightforward one of pay, that women, even today, even in the United States, even women like ourselves, many of us here, who are informed and lucky enough to be well educated, tend to get paid less. It’s a fact. That even happened to me at the White House. I was employed by a combination of the National Security Council and the White House. And when I got a certain promotion, they gave me the minimum.

I mean, I wasn’t paying attention, because you don’t go to the White House in order to make money. But when Susan Rice, to give her credit, became national security adviser and brought in a female chief of staff, they came and said to me, you know, you’re getting paid $20,000 less than the men who had the same title. It can happen all over the place. And, of course, people are less inclined to join the labor force if they’re not going to have equal pay.

The World Bank had a study that identified the barriers in different economies and legal systems, and they identified over a hundred different legal barriers for women to participate. So legal barriers also can be a problem. And obviously, countries could start off with fixing that. In fact, there’s research that making the laws equal for men and women will boost the number of women in the workforce.

And there’s education. We know that women tend not to go into some of the growth areas, although there’s a big effort now to push STEM education for girls. And again, that’s cultural.

Years ago, I was on the board of a great organization called the International Center for Research on Women. It looks at the lives of women and girls in emerging markets. And they did important research that showed that when women become more independent financially, they also become more powerful in the home, and domestic violence goes down.

So there is a definite relationship between financial independence, ability to work, go into the labor force, and the power to be free from violence in societies. And I suppose that before you’ve got that independence, there are going to be barriers—societal barriers, and also maybe physical barriers. Men don’t necessarily want their wives to go out and get independence.

The ILO looked at work earnings, job security. So women tend to be more in the informal sector with less job security than men, so they’re more likely to lose their jobs in bad economies. And then working conditions.

And then there’s the question of whether women are subject to sexual abuse. And we all know that it’s not just in other societies, but very present in our own, that when you’re in a position of power, usually power over women, that that can lead sexual abuse, and that’s a big disincentive to joining the workforce.

BIGIO: What can we do to address these barriers? And obviously with the commitment that the G-7 and G-20 countries have made, there are policies that we’d hope to see these countries pursuing. What’s their progress been?

ATKINSON: One area where we’re not seeing progress—I’ll just start with that, because it’s incredibly important—is on wage equality and equal pay for equal work. That is something that is very difficult to get political support for, it seems, in different countries. Obviously, that would be a gold standard.

Some things are just straightforward encouragement for women, whether through subsidies, whether through encouragement of teleworking, which Saudi Arabia and Italy, for example, are doing.

There is the whole basket of child-care policies. In Japan, there’s very little provision of kindergarten and preschool care. In other places, encouraging private-sector and public-sector provision is important.

Then there’s also the education piece. There’s a lot of places where governments are trying to find ways to encourage young women to go into different fields.

Another thing—especially in my current position at Google, we talk a lot—and I believe in it—is the possibility of digital literacy, helping to close barriers around the world. And there’s a lot of evidence that, for example, small businesses that are online have access to much bigger markets. They tend to pay their workers better. They tend to grow more. That’s also true for women.

And there is, unfortunately, evidence that fewer women have internet access globally. Fewer women have digital literacy. I’m not talking about coding, necessarily; I’m talking about being able to connect. And I’m sure you’ve seen stories about how a lot of craft-based industries can enormously increase their markets if they use it. So I think there is an important element there, which I haven’t seen much in the G-7, partly because some of the people who work on it don’t know that much about technology themselves maybe.

Another thing that some countries have been doing—and I think it could be a powerful tool over time—is increasing transparency. So there is more reporting of where women are employed, what levels that they’re employed at. And I think that that will help to change things over time, to have a little bit of competition at the top, although—as an economist, you’re usually educated to not really believe in quotas, and so on. But over my career, I’ve become convinced of the value of numerical goals.

And actually, when I was at the International Monetary Fund, there were very few senior women. And I had joined the IMF, worked there for a number of years, and all of the time I’d been there, there was tremendous lip service and pride early on in how the graduate intake had become much more balanced. But basically there was a flat line of women in leadership—very low, 12 percent.

At the same time, the World Bank, which is much bigger, had, under one of its presidents, committed to raising leadership levels with a specific target. There were various sort of triggers—you had to have a short list, and every woman knows about that: you know, am I the token woman that’s being put on the short list for this unlikely job so that they check that off. But over time it was really enforced, and these charts that I was looking at in my second time at the IMF showed this flat lining, were very different. I can remember being in a meeting with a bunch of people because there then a backlash: there were all these very depressed men who now think they’re not going to get promoted, so what can we do. And I said—what goal do we have? Women in senior jobs. And I said, well, it has to be 50 percent. The whole world will end, no. And I said, I don’t mind if you even have it out a long way, but I just had this feeling that had there been such a goal 20 years earlier when I actually knew the IMF, it would not be flatlined.

And some countries are looking for goals. Obviously, you’re aware of politicians who say I’m going to have half the Cabinet be female, and I think all of those things are important. Boards too, because I do think that it just makes a difference if you don’t have to think about it.

BIGIO: There are studies, in fact, that have shown that until you have 30 percent representation at the table, there is not a critical mass to influence and improve the organization with a diverse workforce and diverse decision-makers.

With that we’d like now to open the floor to questions from you all. If you could raise your placard and, when I call on you, state your name and your affiliation.

Q: (Off mic.)

ATKINSON: I was talking to some other people about Google recently, and they commented that one thing I’d said, which did not seem exceptional to me, had a set of discussions that clarified something at the beginning.

Google is a technology company full of engineers. At its core, it’s an engineering and technology company. They have—and especially pushed by the current CEO, Sundar Pichai—a strong commitment to values which include inclusiveness.

Because Google is so large, it does have responsibilities to engage on public policy in a way that, when it was a smaller start-up, it didn’t.

There are many people who work at Google who feel very strongly about net neutrality, as you mentioned, but other things: immigration, individual rights, and so on. We are actually a company that’s trying to make innovative products which we think will be good.

Now, that said, I think there has been growing awareness—but always some awareness—about the importance of fighting against discrimination in and fighting to provide an equal platform. It’s not obviously just around gender. It’s around other ways that people can be different.

One area of policy, for instance, looking at artificial intelligence—I mean, machine learning is important in all tech companies, and there’s quite serious work going on in Google. Actually, it began in a lot of different places, that are now working together about looking at the issue of algorithmic bias, and doing research on that and trying to think through, with researchers, engineers, public policy people, how to avoid the problem that if you train machines on data that it self-incorporates a lot of biases, that they will then reflect those biases back. So that is an area of research that is very active, and I think that’s an area where the technology companies do have to take the lead because they are the ones that know how the algorithms work. Google has joined with some other companies to have researchers working on this.

There has also, in its history, been a big tension between freedom of expression and appropriateness of content. And people that started first working at Google obviously support the First Amendment, openness, et cetera, and gradually learned, well, go outside the U.S. and the same laws do not hold. Germany has laws against hate speech, so how do you deal with that?

There’s always an incredible amount of agonizing about taking a policy decision to have some content removed. Child porn was easy, in a way, because it is illegal. Also, machines are actually pretty good at any form of identifying child porn. Machines are quite good at detecting that, and then it gets removed immediately.

But there are other areas that—a few years ago, before I was there, Google, for example, took a policy decision not to allow revenge porn on YouTube. You could have a debate about that. It’s not illegal, but it’s pretty unpleasant.

In India, there’s rape and gang rape, which is a serious problem, and Google takes those videos down as well. I was involved in debate about that.

You mentioned data. There is a lot of data. There are a lot of rules, and I think there will probably be more, and there’s certainly a lot of issues around privacy. Actually, cloud services allow companies to do their technology work in—offsite. So I think that uses of that data need to be very carefully monitored and will be carefully monitored because of privacy issues. There is lots of data that, you know, the World Bank is producing, countries are producing.

One thing that I have to say is that it’s so wonderful to have everybody talking because, even at the IMF, I would notice—you know, you have to say to women, no, sit at the table. Don’t sit at the back. I know you’re thinking that you need to hurry off and finish your memo and everything, but you don’t need to do that any more than guys do around the table.

Q: Ariel Meyerstein. I’m at Citi in the Sustainability Team, so we are tracking and paying attention to a lot of these issues.

Another thing that is spoken about a lot right now is the future of work, and I just wonder if you’ve been thinking about how—you know, not five years from now, but 10 and 20 years from now, and how that’s going to intersect with this agenda, and what, you know, kind of will be new challenges presented by all the technological changes but also maybe opportunities. You mentioned telecommuting—but, you know, how you see that cutting both ways.

When you mentioned Japan and, we—or in China, we don’t want that many workers, that’s exactly the problem we’re going to have in the gig economies. We’re going to have all these workers and what we’re going to do with them, and how’s that going to exacerbate this agenda.

ATKINSON: Thank you.

Just to put my cards on the table—as an economist and macroeconomist, I don’t believe that automation and technological advance will lead to a load of people who are out of work. We’ve seen so many technological advances and changes since the industrial revolution, and what matters more for the overall level of employment is the government’s sort of fiscal and monetary policy.

We can’t think now what jobs there will be, although we are trying to do that to be more reassuring, but if you go back—think of your grandparents. They wouldn’t have imagined the kinds of jobs people do now. Also, if you think of sustainability around the world, there are so many poor people who need more things to have a decent life that I think imaging that there won’t be a value in producing things and in them working to produce things—I don’t think right.

Now, on the other side, a lot of the concerns about future of work I think are going to spur, I hope, interventions that will help on this agenda as well. They will spur more education, more life-long education; more flexibility in the workforce, which will also help—and to help women who are moving out of the workforce at some point to come back. You mentioned teleworking, for example.

So I think that an agenda that is—that is focused on making individuals better able to shift between different jobs will also help women.

One other area that I don’t know that much about but I think is going to be very interesting and is—will be important, make sure that these issues are part of it, is how workers get represented. And there’s obviously a lot of questioning now about has the drop-off in unionization really been a part of why there’s increased inequality in the United States and other advanced economies. Especially in the United States, a lot of policies are tied to jobs. I mean, health insurance is the most obvious, but there are other ones—pensions and so on—in a way that presumes a certain type of employment. If we’re thinking about changing policies to reflect that, it would be very important to ensure that the gender dimension is included in that.

Q: Thank you. Barbara Samuels, Global Clearinghouse of Development Finance.

Inspirational to hear you and to be gathered with everyone. Would very much like to push on the belly of the beast. Right now we’re working with the political commitment of the African Union, heads of state, NEPAD, the business community with developing a precise tool to estimate job creation from infrastructure projects in Africa—direct, indirect, induced, and secondary.

And when we look at—you were going through the policies, and when we really think about how can we affect this space—and of course we’re working with the support of the German government because the refugee problem, and they say it, like, we can’t—we’ve got to create jobs here, and of course from a U.S. perspective we have terrorism.

And part of the agenda is women. So some of the things we’re looking at and would just love to brainstorm with you and everyone else is terms of reference. If, for example, you’re competing for a big-time contract at USAID, they will give preference if you are Deloitte, for example, and you have women-led firms as part of your consortium. So even though against a backdrop, as you know, of WTO regulations and AID architecture which says you can’t do any of those things in other countries, there is support even from the EU, it would seem, to say when you’re putting together the procurement requirements for an infrastructure project, you could actually say, listen, you’ve got to have local content, and in fact, South Africa has done that successfully with their renewable energy project.

So let’s think. What are our levers? You could say procurement for local employment, you could include an allocation, like you said, for cabinet and for boards for women. You could also say for cement—supply of cement, equipment and the like.

Another phenomenon that we should really push on, we would argue, is blended learning. We talk about blended finance. What about blended learning where we take free, online courses, education. How do you get infrastructure done? Project finance techniques. Why can’t we combine free, online courses with African university courses that teach you how to put together a contract that is going to meet the requirements of institutional investors in Africa and the like—second thing.

Third thing is the supply of platform. Let’s have digital marketplaces where, if you are putting together a project in Africa, you can know who are the local financial advisors, engineers and the like, and you can have data fields which include gender.

Fourth, performance metrics. As you said, let’s measure these things and get them out there, and so, you know, it’s a really exciting opportunity because the African institutions—the AU, NEPAD—everybody’s like, do all these things. And we’re building a platform that aspires at least to do the first. So would love to brainstorm on those things and also think through—even though Google may not be interested in power, they are the engineers that can help deliver a lot of this, so how can we build in the key private sector players to make this actually work?

Thank you.

ATKINSON: Thanks. Well, there’s a lot there, and I think that what you say about information—which Google is very—that’s our business—is extremely important, especially probably in those economies, and I love the idea of blended learning and, as I mentioned, the metrics.

I’m a little less wedded to the idea of local content just because I think that a lot of these economies are not very competitive. They’re not very competitive because they’re not opened up. Rents are captured by the powerful people. And when you have local content, that can be a recipe for having corruption, that is not as efficient as it would be if it were brought in from overseas. Rather than saying everybody should have a cement industry, which makes no sense, it’s better to think, yes, you should build the maintenance and so on, which tends to have a labor content.

So I think that having labor from working on these projects is obviously good. I’m a little concerned that the companies and the private sector—in many of these African countries is not the most efficient, and tends to have government capture. And giving them a sort of piece of every project may not be the best way to go. But the other ideas, I thought, sounded great.

Q: (Off mic.)

ATKINSON: Yeah. Well, it’s not just tech. I mentioned about the IMF. And one of the things that I felt there, which I still feel, is that I completely agree with you that you have to think of a way to force the goals down into the place where the hiring decisions are taken.

That’s one reason why I quite like numerical stuff, because even if you just have to explain why it is that all of your recent hires have been white men, that can be a forcing function and it can be something. And, you know, the tech companies are pretty good at collecting data and so on. They can just have checklists about, you know, what’s your record in hires and why has that been.

So I think that having overall goals—which, as you say, the companies tend to have very lofty and increasing focus. And at Google, I would say that it’s—over the time that I’ve been there, which is not very long—there’s been more concern about it. Not just women, there’s also obviously a massive problem about lack of representation of African Americans and Latinos in tech companies.

The other thing that I found interesting—you know more about this than I—but it struck me when I was at the IMF that if you’re making decisions one by one, then it’s much harder—it’s much easier to shield the biases or to not understand it because there may be close differences between people and it’s just one person and so on. If you’re hiring in a pool or promoting in a pool, which is what we used to do at certain levels with the IMF, you can’t sort of look at each other around the table and think, oh, well, our pool for the next set of people that are going to be managers is 10 people and nine of them are white. Then you get kind of forced to change. So I feel that forcing people to look at promotions and hiring in a pooled way really helps.

Now, that goes against the fact at Google of, for example, and I don’t know about other companies, of pushing down responsibilities for management to hiring managers. I have pushed quite a bit and people don’t particularly like it to say, by the way, we’re going to look at this from the office point of view and it’s not just you, X, who are hiring one person, but I want to see how that fits in the group of the eight people that are going to get hired in this round. So I think that a more conscious training-down of who’s responsible and pushing for this pooled hiring and pooled promotion is important.

I also think—it’s interesting what you say about a cultural fit, because, you know, Google people talk about being “googley.” And I have said, what does that mean? Well, it means all sorts of different things. Which can mean, you know, you’re kind of comfortable, you’re friendly with them. I mean, we’ve all seen and I remember at the IMF we were all shown this great woman who was at Yale and at Harvard who’s done a lot of the unconscious bias stuff that makes you go through and see how quickly can sort things, that you have to put under men and under women—all of these men who believed that they didn’t have bias—they were super rational, well, then had to explain why their brains were wired to put the man with the briefcase and the woman in the kitchen. I think it’s good to make people do those just to confront, including me. I mean, I know I have biases, we all do.

It’s a little hard to do the thing that they’ve done in orchestras where, you know, they have the person playing so that you can’t see them because I guess you could take names off.

Q: (Off mic.)

ATKINSON: The thing is, you need a bulk of women. It goes back to what Jamille said. You need to have enough people of any minority to feel that they’re, you know, at home in that space. And, I mean, it’s like on board membership. There is research 20 years ago now showing that companies work better when there’s more diverse decision-making, yet it’s really hard to push it.

The basic thing is you just need more people in there. And then you need to make sure that they are in positions of authority. And I think that your point on a cultural fit is a very good one because it ought not to be allowed.

Q: Hi. Rachel Robbins, formerly with the World Bank Group.

So it was well understood in 2012 the economic implications of having women in the economic labor force globally with the WDR, the World Development Report. So your point about having targets, I completely get. But can you talk a little bit more about what is actually being done. You know, is there—is there annual reporting that companies have stepped up to? Is there a platform to share information? Is there some group of expertise within one of the international organizations that helps countries figure out solutions? I mean, they’ve all signed up to this commitment, but can you talk a little bit more about what is happening?

ATKINSON: Yeah. So in one sense, progress is slow. But in another sense, a lot is happening in terms of encouraging research. The G-20 work means that in every government, in every preparation of the leaders, there are people that are accountable for thinking about these issues, thinking about how they can affect women’s labor force participation in their countries. That will step up as you get closer to 2025. And I think that’s long enough to make an investment—to not get to 2024 and then think, oh.

There has been the analysis about which of the three different areas that affect participation, both on earnings, working conditions, and job security. That is all work that’s been done by the ILO. But the ILO working with the OECD and with the IMF that are all places that don’t really usually like to work together much, but have been pushed to do it by the political pressure.

And Jamille can probably say more, but there is a W-20 and a W-7, which is a Woman-20 and a woman G-7, these groups that have been pushed to develop more recommendations and have those become part of the debate. So it’s a kind of long, slow process, but there is more and more analysis and more and more pressure and more and more analysis both of the facts, but also of the policies that inhibit, the barriers that are all over the place. The first thing would be to remove those, as well as affirmative policies that can help to promote women in the labor force and women getting equal pay.

There is definitely more work that has been pushed as a result of this political commitment. That’s not to say there isn’t more to do.

And on the private sector, there is a little bit of public shaming, which no doubt—which civil society is doing, and we all are.

And then I think the sort of next steps about, OK, you may have some leadership commitment, but how does that filter down and help people to figure out the mechanisms that will lead to different outcomes is a really important piece.

BIGIO: I think we have time for just one more question.

ATKINSON: Or maybe take both, the two questions, and I’ll answer them together.

Q: It can be short. I’m Rosemary Werrett, I’m with Observatory Group, but I also work with a microcredit group in Latin America called Pro Mujer which works for the betterment of women.

My question is a little bit different. It’s a two-part question, but it’s short. Does the lack of leadership now from the White House on women and gender issues, does that affect the G-20 momentum because it takes some oxygen out of it?

Secondarily, is the whole issue about harassment, sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, does that feed into the diversity argument, and does it help it now that it’s become a major media issue, a Hollywood issue, I think probably an issue around the world? So does that help your diversity effort, or does it not mean anything, or is it negative?

Q: (Off mic.)

ATKINSON: Yeah. So on the lack of leadership, yes, absolutely, I’m sure it sucks oxygen out. There are already a lot of processes in place that, though we wouldn’t be where we were today if there hadn’t been leadership, whether the lack of leadership now will—there’s a certain inertia forward.

The other thing that’s a bit depressing. There used to be a lot of female leaders or a few female leaders in the G-20. Merkel is still there and Theresa May is there as well. But you no longer have Dilma Rousseff and—unfortunately, they all left in rather bad circumstances—President Park from Korea, and the prime minister of Thailand. I mean, there was a high point when there were all of them. But I think that in the coming year, Canada and Argentina are chairing the G-7 and the G-20 and in both cases I think that there’s interest in this issue.

I think #MeToo has to help just because of consciousness-raising. I’m only worried about whether there’s going to be a backlash.

And on the quotas, I think that having goals, even if you don’t call it quotas—and there are different sort of legal barriers to that, I think there are legal reasons not to. Private sector companies are not allowed to be biased against or in favor of certain demographics. So, you know, you have to be careful. But I think that goals are important, building goals into performance reviews, and that sort of thing.

BIGIO: Well, please join me in thanking Caroline so much for a wonderful discussion. (Applause.)

And thank you all. Have a wonderful rest of the day. Thank you.


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