Tackling gender inequality could add £10tn to world economy


UBS report says governments need to change how companies behave and remove barriers that prevent women rising to top.

Governments must take the lead on reducing gender inequality to unlock almost £10tn of additional global economic output, a report argues.

Closing the gender gap on employment, pay and business leadership is an important source of growth in an environment of persistently sluggish figures, UBS Wealth Management says.

If countries increase national female participation rates to match the best in their region it could add $12tn (£9.9tn), or 11%, to the world economy by 2025, a recent McKinsey study found. But a report by the World Economic Forum found the gender gap had widened in the past four years and predicted it could take 170 years for women to reach parity.

To remove obstacles, governments need to make hard choices and think long-term by providing adequate maternity and paternity leave and high quality subsidised childcare as well as promoting employment policies that encourage women to succeed, UBS said in its report, Women as a force for economic change.

Only half the world’s women are gainfully employed, compared with 75% for men, and women earn on average 24% less than men globally, the report said, citing OECD figures.

UBS said to address the imbalance, governments needed to change the ways companies behave, getting them to remove the so-called glass ceiling that prevents women from reaching the top of organisations.

The biggest barrier to equality was the lack of choice for women who have children, who are forced to leave their job or work part time, the report said. Women also take fewer advanced degrees than men so that they make up just 30% of science researchers and a third of IT workers.

Tan Min Lan, who co-wrote the report at UBS, said: “Despite the evidence linking gender diversity to significant gains in economic growth and company profitability, women are still largely under-represented in the workforce worldwide and continue to face daunting obstacles in corporate environments.”

UBS said it was in companies’ self interest to treat women equally and promote their advancement because businesses with women in their senior ranks are more profitable.

In the UK there has been some progress but senior business roles remain heavily dominated by men.

Emma Walmsley will be the most powerful woman in the FTSE 100 when she takes over as chief executive of GlaxoSmithKline at the end of March. But she will be one of only seven women running FTSE 100 companies on current numbers.

Sir Philip Hampton, GSK’s chairman, is leading a government-commissioned review into increasing the number of female senior executives at Britain’s top companies. Part of the plan is to promote more women into management positions who can go on to lead Britain’s biggest companies.

Tan said: “Getting more women into work is only a partial victory if they are confined to lower levels of the corporate hierarchy. Companies have to realise that there are tangible benefits to increasing gender diversity in senior positions.”

Hampton’s review follows progress made since the 2011 Davies report that asked FTSE 100 companies to ensure a quarter of their directors were women. That goal was achieved last year but the increase was mainly among non-executive directors and increases have since stalled.

Parliament’s women and equalities committee criticised the government in March for lack of action on closing the gender pay gap. The committee said the 19.2% gap had barely improved in four years despite a pledge to eradicate it within a generation.