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OECD Says Tackle Gender Gap to Boost Economic Growth

May 22 (Bloomberg) -- The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development urged member nations to reduce gender inequalities, arguing that greater educational and career opportunities for women will bolster global growth.

Female workers today still earn 16 percent less than men in OECD economies, the organization said in a report today. Those gaps widen for higher-income women, who earn on average 21 percent less than their male counterparts and make up only 10 percent of corporate boards and one-third of managers, according to the paper.

Government representatives from the 34 member countries are set to discuss the report in Paris this week at a forum highlighting unemployment and inequality. Intervention must start early on, as women are choosing to study subjects that offer fewer career prospects, the study said.

“Leaving women behind means not only forsaking the important contributions women make to the economy but also wasting years of investment in education of girls and young women,” the OECD said. “Increased education accounts for about half of economic growth in OECD countries in the past 50 years, and that has a lot to do with bringing more girls to higher levels of education and achieving greater equality in the number of years spent in education between men and women.”

Beyond the realm of education, governments and businesses should also make it easier and cheaper for women with children to continue working, the OECD said. Women have also faced a “glass ceiling” that has blocked their career advancement. Norway’s success in boosting female representation in the boardroom through quotas suggest such policies can be effective, the report said.

Female Entrepreneurs

The number of female entrepreneurs has changed little over the years and the women who do start their own businesses do so on a smaller scale, employing fewer people and generating lower sales and profits.

“The proportion of women-owned businesses is currently stuck at around 30% of the total in OECD countries, and seems to ’plateau’ at around the same level in developing countries which have started from low levels,” the OECD said.

U.S. representatives to this week’s forum include Alan Krueger, chairman of President Barack Obama’s Council of Economic Advisors, and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk. Chilean Finance Minister Felipe Larrain, Polish Deputy Prime Minister Waldemar Pawlak and Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan are also scheduled to attend.

To contact the reporter on this story: Aki Ito in San Francisco at aito16@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Chris Wellisz at cwellisz@bloomberg.net

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