Closing the Gender Gap – have we reached the tipping point?

Delivered 08-03-2017

Hello everybody, and welcome to the OECD’s series of events that we have called March on Gender, to mark International Women’s Day.

We like to celebrate and continue to increase awareness, but I am happy to say that gender issues are not issues for a day at the OECD. All year long we promote gender equality, in our member and partner countries, and inside the Organization. We even have guidelines not to have panels with men only (manels), although in this occasion I am so glad to have so many men to talk about gender.


Indeed, if there is progress in one area, this is the awareness that we have to make progress in this agenda. In fact, this year’s global theme for International Women’s Day is #Press for Progress.  But where are we?

The OECD Pursuit of Gender Equality: an Uphill Battle report shows that there’s further to go.

There has been progress in some areas, for example, education, where girls in OECD countries now out-perform boys and are reaching higher levels of education.

Gender gaps in employment have also narrowed although we continue to have 10 percentage points difference, and some countries like mine can reach 30.

We have made progress to bring this issue to the leaders agenda in the G20 and G7, and to establish a narrowing of the gap of labour force participation by “25 by 25” target – which the OECD helped establish at the 2014 Brisbane Summit.

Nowadays, gender is a crosscutting issue both in the G20 and in the G7, and we will be hearing from Prime Minster Trudeau’s personal appointee to the G7 Gender Equality Advisory Council on this afternoon.

But even if the will is there, it doesn’t translate into fast change.

Even with higher levels of education, girls are not well represented in rewarding disciplines like STEM, and in developing countries they are still lagging behind.

The digital revolution is also opening another possible divide, where girls are really lagging behind on ITC and women have very low representation in the ICT industry. Yes, maybe the new technologies will open opportunities that are more flexible, but they can also be linked to low quality jobs.

We still have a wage gap of 15% in OECD countries, and there are still many, many positions in senior management, public leadership and entrepreneurship that are unreachable for women. And it’s the private sector that is lagging behind.

In 2016, women made up only 4.8% of CEOs. Women has less access to finance, and to networks if they dare to become entrepreneurs. I would be interested to hear from Eric [Eric Labaye from McKinsey] about this. No wonder until last year, the Mexican Council of Businessmen was about that, only men.

Politics is better, but not much women held 28.7% of seats in lower houses of OECD Parliaments.  Progress has been slow in breaking the glass ceiling, or even of cleaning the sticky floor!

Some countries promote gender balance on company boards and affirmative action within public office – quotas are the only measures that seem to be effective, quickly.

And I know, quotas need to be carefully designed, but there are not great risks. Actually, my country has parity in the Federal Congress, and when the worried President of Congress told me that they were going to be full of incompetent women, I said that in many places we are full of incompetent men without quotas!

And then you have the really serious issue of violence against women; 35% of all women have experienced sexual violence. And this happen all over the world, but is a particularly difficult problem in developing countries with weak justice institutions, or with violent practices like genital mutilation, or early marriage. In Niger 3 in 4 girls are married before their 18th birthday.  36 countries do not have specific legislation to address sexual harassment. And yes, many girls are subject to exploitation and slavery.

That’s why we commend the initiative of the UK on Modern Slavery, or the leadership of people like Nobel Prize winner Kailash Satyarthi is doing to save hundreds of thousands of children from the slave trade. For our part, the OECD last month launched the Call to Action to protect migrant children.

 Analysis and solutions

So why are we not tipping over into gender equality yet? Notwithstanding progress in public awareness and policies in many countries, lack of equality has much to do with entrenched gender-bias in cultural patterns and institutions, beliefs and behaviours.

Cultural norms are especially strong in some developing countries, and this concern women and men.  For example, in Afghanistan, 80% of women believe domestic violence can be justified for some reasons.

These gender norms have enormous spillover effects into the rest of society, and purely economically speaking, they are costly: last year, the OECD estimated that discrimination in laws, attitudes and practices costs the global economy close to 12 trillion dollars[1].

And the cultures and norms define gender roles, both at work and at home. The sharing of caring responsibilities – of children and the elderly – is still seen as a woman’s role.

In OECD countries, women spend an average of over 1.5 hours per day on unpaid work; in Mexico it’s a staggering 4.5 hours per day.

Women’s careers are also more likely to be ‘non-linear’ and interrupted to care for family members.

These gender norms are everywhere – they’re confirmed in the home, at school and in the workplace. And they’re hard to treat – unconscious bias is strong.

Studies have shown that while 69% of people explicitly say they believe men and women are equally effective leaders, 55% of people implicitly associate leadership with men only.

And the media and social networks are not helping. Actually, in our PISA for well-being publication, we have found that pressure and cyberbullying is affecting boys and girls, but for girls it always related to their image, and to impossible role models that question their own lives. Girls at age 15 report 10 points less of life satisfaction than boys.

Of course we need better policies, parental leave for fathers, flexible working arrangements and good quality childcare to enable both parents to work. We need better education and encouragement of girls at school, we need gender blind textbooks and teachers that can deal with them, we need quotas in business and support for women entrepreneurs. But countries are doing a lot of this and we still have a gap.  So we need a culture change, and this is not only about women. It is about man and women that are conscious and respectful of human dignity and that build balance and caring societies. The same way we have stereotypes for women, we have it for men that has to be a warrior, compete with no mercy and work 18 hours a day. Besides, they cannot cry. Not a fantastic model.

Culture change for gender equality requires system change.  It is not only about women “leaning in” but as the Australian Ambassador to France said to me yesterday it’s about men “reaching out” and it’s about making a system that works for both – men and women.  This calls for sound policies, powerful role models and appropriate capacities and resources.

Let’s ask ourselves: how gender-sensitive are the policies that we are putting in place in all areas – from education to employment, from banking to housing?  Are they good for all, or only for certain groups of the population? How do we know?  Are our policies equally benefitting men and women?

We need to systematically adopt a gender lens across all policy-making and budget processes, and ensure sufficient resources, capacity and political will to see how men and women are impacted differently by our policies and systems.

This is why today we are launching the OECD Toolkit for Mainstreaming and Implementing Gender Equality [hold up publication].

This toolkit will help governments, parliaments and judiciaries design gender-sensitive public policies and services, through self-assessment, and by helping them identify what works or what is missing. It’s full of examples of effective practices to support the implementation of policies and initiatives.

It considers that gender issues need to be cross cutting, and that it should be mainstream in all decisions. Five key actions are identified:

  1. Strategy –Gender Equality Strategies must be integrated into the overall national priorities or strategies.
  2. Roles and responsibilities – it needs to identified who is in charge of this agenda.
  3. Tools and data – policymakers need to know how to implement a gender lens, including through gender impact assessment.
  4. Accountability – policymakers need to know if what they’re doing is working.
  5. Parity – both men and women, from diverse background, need to be part of decision making, on an equal basis (50/50) – across the board – spanning all leadership roles.

I hope that this will help countries to bridge the implementation gap.

I know Canada will already be using it, and we’ll hear from Ambassador D’Auray shortly.


As I said at the beginning, we have made progress I am optimistic, and I believe we are reaching the tipping point: the younger generation is more gender progressive about women’s equal role in society, and there is evidence that attitudes are evolving with time.

Because this isn’t just about women; it’s about men, children and building more caring societies. This is why the OECD is pursuing an agenda of well-being and inclusive growth.

We are really putting the person – the women, men and children – at the centre of our policies.

Thank you

[1] Ferrant, G. and A. Kolev, (2016), “Does gender discrimination in social institutions matter for long-term growth? Cross-country evidence”, OECD Development Centre Working Papers No. 330, OECD, Paris,

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