Our thinking

The economic rationale for gender parity

Less about #metoo, more about the economics

Gender parity - of pay as well as opportunity - has inevitably continued to dominate debates. It sits squarely within the overarching Davos agenda of governance and equality and was one of the priorities discussed by Justin Trudeau and Angela Merkel when they met yesterday.

The starting point for many has been increased data demonstrating the economic rationale for gender equality. Citi's Chief Global Political Analyst Tina Fordham spoke compellingly of their research suggesting pursuing gender changes and policies could boost GDP by 6%, with "women as global growth drivers".

Investors, activist shareholders from millennial funds and some pensions are increasingly demanding greater visibility on how companies are responding to the issue. That context has directed discussion towards the levers required to raise female labour force participation and remove structural or behavioral barriers (not least when evidence suggests women currently undertake three times more unpaid care work than men).

Three main levers emerge:

1) Policy changes, including government-led initiatives around subsidized child care and transport, with Sweden cited as the best example

2) Changes to corporate policies on training, leadership and mentoring - the latter now being considered less practical than sponsoring of colleagues. "This is a strategic issue not a diversity and inclusion issue" was the view, with IKEA an example of a company shaping the changes - adapting its policies on paternity leave - and Adecco shifting to shorter more productive days.

3) Education, and its failure to keep up with the shifting global economic and social agenda, was a thread throughout. "No job in five years won't involve an element of how tech works" was one view, with fundamental shifts in core skills for all genders now required.

Where does #metoo fit within this? One panel questioned whether it was actually hampering employment prospects for women, seen as high risk employees - a theme picked up in today's WSJ. However, overwhelmingly, the sense is that, despite continuing examples to the contrary, a tide really has shifted in terms of mindset - but that the practical changes will take a lot longer to come through.