Christine Lagarde said the International Monetary Fund will push countries to publish more data on female participation in the labor market in an effort to draw attention to policies that could boost growth from Italy to Egypt.
Getting more women to join the labor force is a topic Lagarde, the IMF managing director, says she raises in every meeting with government officials. Some countries don’t provide statistics on the number of women accessing the labor market or working part time and the fund can use its yearly appraisal of countries’ economies to weigh in, she said.
“We will actually encourage countries to report on gender issues,” Lagarde said in a telephone interview today, while adding that the fund cannot make it compulsory. “Focusing on the other half of humanity does not hurt growth and economic development, quite to the contrary.”
The global female labor force participation has stalled around 50 percent for two decades, reflecting a lack of progress toward gender equality in markets also characterized by lower wages and limited access to senior positions for women, according to a report by the fund’s staff released today.
That shows in the U.S., where about 60 percent of the increase in employment for women from 2009 to 2012 was in jobs that pay less than $10.10 an hour, compared with 20 percent for men, according to a study by the National Women’s Law Center using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Getting more women to participate in the workforce would boost growth in both developed and developing economies, according to the fund, at a time when world expansion remains sluggish amid a slowdown in emerging markets. The report lists measures that range from tax credits for low-wage earners to better access to affordable child care for countries to adopt.
While the IMF’s influence is strongest in countries it lends to, Lagarde said it won’t systematically attach gender measures to the money.
“If and where we see inappropriate principles or discriminatory issues, we can always raise those as part of our discussions with policy makers in the context of programs, but I would not say that it’s one of the lead key items,” she said.
The fund has already made gender a more frequent theme of its economic assessments in recent years said Heidi Crebo-Rediker, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington and served as the State Department’s first chief economist until earlier this year.
“In my experience, the IMF has quite a strong voice when it consults with countries,” she said.
IMF economists in an October report last year called “Can Women Save Japan?” explored how to remove hurdles faced by working women and the prospects for the country if more women joined the labor force.
In April, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced measures to elevate the role of women in the economy, calling for women filling 30 percent of senior positions in all parts of society by 2020 and vowing to eliminate waiting lists for childcare and provide training for mothers returning to work.
Women make up 15 percent of department managers across all sectors, according to Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, while female workers’ salaries are about 70 percent those of men. Long working hours plus a lack of child and elderly-care facilities deter women from taking senior roles.
The fund’s work on Japan, which Lagarde promoted while in Tokyo last year, “has gone a long way to influence Abenomics,” Crebo-Rediker said.
Lagarde said she brought up female participation at a recent conference in Italy and at the Group of 20 nations meeting in Russia.
“They need to hear the music over and over and over,” she said. In the Middle East and North Africa, which lags other regions with a rate of 21 percent, “I generally do that privately.”
Lagarde has said she once walked away from a job interview at a law firm in Paris after being told she would never become a partner because of her gender. Now at the head of a male-dominated institution, she is experiencing challenges making the management ranks more balanced at the IMF.
An annual report released last week showed that the share of women in management jobs, at about 22 percent, is still short of targets set at 25 percent to 30 percent for the fiscal year ending April 30.
“They might be difficult to reach, but I’m not going to give up on them,” Lagarde said of the goals. Targets, like quotas “are a necessary step given the hard work that needs to be done, but I don’t think they are the long-term solution.”
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