The 2013 Worldwide Index of Women as Public Sector Leaders

Labor force participation

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Women are central to broad-based economic and social development. Educating and investing in women and girls has a positive effect on productivity, efficiency and economic growth.

Conversely, not focusing on women can limit poverty reduction and economic development. In today’s hyper-connected and competitive world, it is crucial for countries to take full advantage of this previously neglected talent resource.

Over the next decade, the impact of women on the global economy — as producers, entrepreneurs, employees and consumers — will be at least as significant as that of China’s and India’s respective one-billion-plus populations, if not more so.

But while significant progress has been made toward gender equality in many ways, much more remains to be done to open the playing field for women’s equal participation in business, society and the economy.

Dr. Nemat Shafik, the deputy director of the IMF and a former senior civil servant in the UK, points to a macro dimension across the Index. “These results are partly a product of female labor force participation, which is very, very low in the Middle East, for example. So the question is, how do we get more women in the labor force?”

The impact of austerity

Cuts in public sector jobs will result in worsening of labor market situation. In the UK, it is estimated that 710,000 public sector jobs will be lost by 2017, with twice as many women as men losing their jobs.

In some countries such as Spain, Portugal and Greece, the cutbacks have focused on the most female-dominated sectors, such as education, health and social work, making the situation even worse for women. In Italy, 19,700 women’s jobs have been cut, and 87,000 more are expected in coming years in the education sector.

Cultural factors play a huge part in gender inequality, as we can see from the countries performing lowest on the index — India, Saudi Arabia and Japan.

Women face formidable legal, social, financial and cultural barriers that prevent their full participation in labor forces around the world.

Governments and businesses need to do more to work together to remove these restrictions as both stand to benefit from a vital resource that can help spur growth and innovation.