Women in the Judiciary: What solutions to advance gender-responsive and gender-diverse justice systems?

Towards Gender Equality Before the Law. Agenda

Kate Brooks, OECD Directorate for Public Governance and Territorial Development (GOV)

In recent decades, the number of women in the judiciary has significantly increased worldwide. In many countries around half of law students are women, and 2014 data shows that women in OECD countries make up more than 54% of professional judges. But women are still vastly underrepresented in top-ranking judicial positions including on High Court benches and other senior roles in the legal profession. What are the obstacles to women’s legal leadership? How can we overcome them?

In 2015 the UK’s only female Supreme Court judge, Baroness Hale, criticised all-male appointments. Hale has been a strong advocate of improving diversity, questioning whether an element of positive discrimination may eventually be needed to redress gender imbalance. Increasing gender balance on high court benches helps to preserve the legitimacy of the courts as representative of the societies that they serve and enables courts to understand the real-world implications of their rulings. Enhancing gender diversity in the justice system helps maintain public confidence, reduces barriers to women’s access to justice, such as stigma associated with reporting violence and abuse, and ensures a more balanced approach to enforcing the law. A higher presence of women jurists is vital to ensuring the implementation and safeguarding of equality rights. Courts that operate free of gender bias and other forms of discriminatory practices can be powerful drivers of social change.

The under-representation of women in high-level courts partly relates to horizontal gender segregation in the judiciary in OECD countries. Usually, women tend to be better represented in family and other first-instance courts, resulting in fewer women being promoted into upper courts. On average, women hold 45.9% of Presidencies in Courts of First Instance, 28% in Courts of Second Instance, and 18.6% in Supreme Courts (CEPEJ 2016).

The barriers faced by women in the judiciary are similar to those encountered in other areas of public life. In addition to challenges in balancing work/life commitments, persisting gender stereotypes, lack of development opportunities and gender bias in promotions; stringent requirements for judicial appointments and selection methods tend to impede women from becoming top judges.

Since women are often successful at gaining entry into the legal profession but progress slowly into senior posts, re-visiting the corporate culture and working conditions, and introducing mentorship schemes are necessary considerations. Regardless of government policies, leadership and independent monitoring of outcomes are essential components to ensure a more diverse judiciary.

Note: Data not available for Australia, Canada, Chile, Japan, Korea, Mexico, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States‌
Source: European judicial systems Efficiency and quality of justice, CEPEJ STUDIES No. 23 (Edition 2016, 2014 data)

The 2015 OECD Recommendation on Gender Equality in Public Life provides a range of options to enable equal access to leadership opportunities- including in the judiciary. It includes measures to strengthen institutional capacities for effective governance and the mainstreaming of gender equality across all policy areas. The OECD continues to work to support countries in addressing the remaining barriers to gender equality in public life. A toolkit to guide both members and non-members is currently in development.

On March 10 high-level government officials and non-governmental experts will share their experiences and views on how countries can better respond to the needs of women and girls by linking gender equality perspectives with improved access to justice. The event is open to the public.

Useful links

OECD Event on Gender Equality before the Law

 Women in government

OECD (2016), 2015 OECD Recommendation of the Council on Gender Equality in Public Life, OECD Publishing, Paris.

OECD (2014), Women, Government and Policy Making in OECD Countries: Fostering Diversity for Inclusive Growth, OECD Publishing, Paris.

Women in Public Life; Gender, Law and Policy in the Middle East and North Africa

Female breadwinners sweep the crumbs, too

Valerie Frey and Lucy Hulett, OECD Directorate for Employment, Labour and Social Affairs

It’s 11:00 on Saturday morning. Both you and your partner had exhausting weeks at work, and so far the day has been spent preparing and cleaning up breakfast, wrangling children out of pyjamas and into real clothes, and running to the store for yogurt and bananas. Your kids are finally playing quietly with Lego bricks in the living room. At last, a break!

Do you:

(a) Relax on the couch with an iPad?
(b) Go tidy up the bedrooms?
(c) Gather laundry to toss a quick load in the washing machine?
(d) Start meal prep for the week ahead?

If you answered b, c, or d, odds are good that you’re a woman. But don’t just take the word of two working parents. Survey data tell us so.

In every OECD country, and indeed throughout the world, women do more unpaid housework and childcare than men. Norwegians nearly equally share unpaid work, but women there still do thirty additional minutes of childcare and chores than men every day. In countries like Japan, Korea, Mexico, and Turkey, women do more than three times as much unpaid work as their partners. Recent OECD research finds that Mexican women spend especially long hours on childcare and chores, spending over six hours each day, on average, while men spend fewer than two. Inequality in unpaid care work is even worse in developing countries.

Women do most of the unpaid childcare and housework in the OECD
Proportion and total minutes of unpaid labour per day carried out by men and women, select OECD countries

Source: Chapter 1 in Building an Inclusive Mexico: Policies and Good Governance for Gender Equality (OECD, 2017)

This unpaid work burden takes its toll. Women are less likely to engage in the labour force when they put in long hours cooking, cleaning, and caring for kids. When women do work, they’re more likely to work part-time and earn less than their male counterparts. This reflects some women’s preferences to stay home after becoming parents, but it also reflects deep-seated gender norms, stereotypes, and sometimes discrimination on the part of employers, who may anticipate that women are less committed to their jobs.

Less time on housework means more time for paid work

Source: Chapter 4 in Building an Inclusive Mexico: Policies and Good Governance for Gender Equality (OECD, 2017).

Young couples may start out sharing laundry duties, but gender gaps in unpaid work widen when men and women become parents. Childbirth represents an important milestone, as it is the time when many couples revert to more “traditional” roles: mothers are more likely to opt out of the workforce or reduce their hours to care for kids, while fathers are more likely to be employed, across OECD countries, than men without children. The gender gap in the employment rate between men and childless women is a relatively small 4.8 percentage points, on average, across the OECD. This gap more than quadruples, to nearly 23 percentage points, when comparing men to women with at least one child under age 14.

An old-fashioned economist might claim, “Ah, but this is a natural and efficient division of labour – women and men specialise in household and market tasks!” This argument may have made sense fifty years ago, when many men’s education and earning potential outpaced women’s, but that is no longer the case. In most OECD countries, young women now have higher levels of education than men. And while the gender wage gap is relatively small in young adulthood, it widens around childbearing age as the so-called “motherhood penalty” takes effect.

Even when women earn more than their spouses, they still do the majority of unpaid housework and care. Theorists point to this as evidence that gender norms outweigh economic efficiency as high-earning women do more housework to conform to gender norms at home, if not in the labour market.

Unpaid work is unbalanced even in couples where the woman earns a higher income
Minutes spent in unpaid work, per day, according to women’s income relative to their partner’s income

Source: Chapter 5 in Dare to Share: Germany’s Experience Promoting Equal Partnerships in Families (OECD, 2017).

But there is hope. Policymakers, employers, and families are starting to take action.

Governments increasingly recognise the importance of couples equally sharing childcare and chores. About two-thirds of OECD countries now offer paid paternity leave around childbirth. A growing number of countries reserve (or award “bonus”) days for fathers within parental leave schemes. As a new OECD report details, Germany went even further by introducing the Parental Allowance Plus (ElterngeldPlus) and Partnership Bonus (Partnerschaftsbonus), which provide financial incentives for both parents working part-time and sharing caregiving when children are young. Other countries, including Australia, Portugal, and Slovenia, have run awareness campaigns to promote men’s work-life balance and equal sharing at home.

Workplace policies matter, too. Many employers now offer flexible work options and care-related leave, but workplace cultures often stigmatise fathers who take up such benefits. These measures must be accompanied by employers’ normalisation of men’s leave-taking and by better efforts to evaluate employees based on actual output, rather than “face time” on the job. Hours are a poor proxy for performance and typically disadvantage women.

Of course, policies can only go so far in promoting equality at home if gender stereotypes persist in society. Although fathers’ leave-taking and working part-time are steps in the right direction, they will likely produce only slow changes in unpaid work behaviour.

So how do we keep our daughters from making the dough and sweeping the breadcrumbs?

Perhaps the most important step is to teach your sons to clean and teach your daughters not to. Early gender socialisation, at school and at home, has long-lasting effects. A strong predictor of an adult’s behaviours and expectations is their parents. Across countries, adult children tend to mimic their mothers’ and fathers’ division of paid and unpaid labour.  Children with working mothers expect women to work outside the home, and children with dads who do housework expect that, too. By “dropping the ball” and encouraging their partners to pick up the slack, mothers can relax on the couch safe in the knowledge that they are doing their bit to encourage gender equality in future generations.

Useful Links

OECD Gender Data Portal

Dare to Share: Germany’s Experience Promoting Equal Partnership in Families (OECD, 2017)

Building an Inclusive Mexico: Policies and Good Governance for Gender Equality (OECD, 2017)

Gender-balance in Parliaments: An indispensable condition for more democratic and sustainable societies

Kate Brooks and Eleonore Komai, OECD Directorate for Public Governance and Territorial Development (GOV)

The 2015 OECD Recommendation of the Council on Gender Equality in Public Life is unique and innovative as it covers executives but also parliaments and judiciaries with clear, timely and actionable guidelines. It represents an important commitment of member and partner countries that wish to join the OECD community towards the realisation of a whole-of-government approach for more gender-sensitive and inclusive public institutions. Notably, it calls on its Adherents to “consider measures to achieve gender balanced representation in decision making positions in public life by encouraging greater participation of women in government at all levels, as well as in parliaments, judiciaries and other public institutions”.

Women’s representation in parliaments remains a global issue. On average in 2016, women constituted 23% of parliamentarians over both upper and lower houses combined, with the Pacific, Arab States and Asia having the lowest representation (16.4%, 18.2%, and 19.2% respectively)[1]. However, it must be noted that many countries in these regions have made substantial progress over the past ten years.

Numbers do matter. Parliaments are powerful political institutions where most policies are voted on. They shape important aspects of people’s social, political and economic present and future lives. Parliaments should thus reflect the perspectives and interests of society in all its diversity. A truly inclusive society would have a truly inclusive legislature.

Amongst OECD countries, women’s representation in lower houses and unicameral legislatures is heterogeneous both in terms of percentage and progress. While Iceland reached 47.6% of female parliamentarians in 2016 (39.7% in 2013), some countries such as Chile lag behind with women’s parliamentarians accounting for 15.8% in 2016. In addition, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, Germany, New-Zealand, Italy, Austria, Luxembourg, France and Greece have experienced a drop in women’s representation from 2013 to 2016.

For young women, adolescents and little girls to aspire to leadership roles in public life, they need to see women leaders. Specific measures, such as quotas, have been implemented to tackle the issue of gender balance in parliaments. Quotas aim to ensure that women represent at least a critical minority. They can take the form of reserved seats, legal candidate quotas or political party quotas and can be legislated or voluntary[2]. 10 of the 35 OECD countries reported having implemented legislated quotas in 2016. Effectiveness largely depends on context.

Share of female parliamentarians in OECD countries, 2013 and 2016
Percentage of women holding seats in lower houses and unicameral legislatures

Data is for 1st December 2016 and 1st December 2013. Bars in light blue represent countries with legislated quotas in 2016
Source: Inter-parliamentary Union (IPU) PARLINE database, Quota Project

It is important to point out that gender balance in parliaments, as an important step towards gender equality, is not sufficient in itself. Gender balance does not ensure equal participation or equal access to leadership and decision-making roles among others.

Barriers to women’s equal representation and access to political life – be they structural, functional or cultural – find commonalities among countries but are also specific to local settings. Strategies and efforts to tackle gender inequality within parliaments can start with global strategies and international commitments, but need to be supported by concrete measures and continuously adapted to specific realities and experiences. The OECD continues to work to support countries in addressing the remaining barriers to gender equality in public life. A toolkit to guide both members and non-members is currently in development.

Useful links

International Women’s Day at the OECD:

Friday, 14-17h, Seminar on gender equality before the law

OECD work on Gender equality

Women in government

OECD (2016), 2015 OECD Recommendation of the Council on Gender Equality in Public Life, OECD Publishing, Paris.

OECD (2014), Women, Government and Policy Making in OECD Countries: Fostering Diversity for Inclusive Growth, OECD Publishing, Paris.

[1] http://www.ipu.org/wmn-e/world.htm

[2] http://www.quotaproject.org/aboutQuotas.cfm

Could a man become Chancellor of Germany?

women-governmentMonika Queisser, Senior Counsellor, OECD Directorate for Employment, Labour and Social Affairs. Today’s post is also being published by the World Economic Forum

Angela Merkel was elected Chancellor of Germany for the first time in 2005. A few years ago, my daughter, then in primary school, asked me whether it was actually possible for a man to become the Chancellor of Germany. She was so used to seeing a woman in this position that it took a stretch of imagination to picture a man in her place. This shows how powerful role models can be in shaping perceptions and stereotypes.

Next year, we may have three female leaders among the G7 heads of state, along with a male prime minister, Canada’s Justin Trudeau, who has repeatedly declared himself a feminist. But for all the movement we are seeing at the top of governments, much remains to be done to reach a better gender balance in public life. Too few women are still being promoted to senior government posts and other decision-making roles in the public sector.

In OECD countries, women held 30% of ministerial positions and occupied only 28% of seats in lower/single parliaments in 2016. Star performers are Sweden, where 44% of parliamentarians are female, and Mexico with 42%. At the bottom of the league are Hungary and Japan, where barely 10% of members of parliament are female.


Image: Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) PARLINE (database), and IDEA Quota Project (database).

Note. Bars in light blue represent countries with lower or single house parliaments with legislated candidate quotas as of 21 January, 2013. Data refer to female share of parliamentarians recorded as of 1 June, 2016 and 25 October, 2002. Percentages represent the number of women parliamentarians as a share of total filled seats. 2002 data for the Slovak Republic are unavailable.

More and more women are entering the legal profession, but the judiciary is still very male. In the European Union, women occupied on average 37% of seats on supreme courts in 2014, ranging from less than 10% in UK and Portugal to more than 50 % in Luxemburg, Hungary and Slovak Republic. The picture is similar for leadership positions in civil service despite rising numbers of female staff in central governments. Bolder and more decisive action is needed.

The case for quotas

After long and heated debates at national and international levels, quotas for gender-balanced representation in public decision-making are becoming more and more popular. Not surprisingly, they work to bring the numbers up. Mexico, for example, passed a constitutional reform which introduced a parity requirement in the legislative elections. As a result, women’s representation in the national legislature has almost doubled since 2005. Affirmative action measures are less common in the executive but France and Canada have established parity cabinets, demonstrating their high-level political commitment to advancing gender equality in public life.

Apart from the moral imperative of offering equal opportunities for promotion to men and women alike, there are also broader measurable positive effects. OECD studies highlight that gender diversity in public decision making fosters more inclusive policy making and confidence in public institutions. Other studies examining effects at the country level have found that female politicians are more likely to invest in programmes that deal with social and gender equality issues; in Latin America, the presence of female legislators has helped prioritize children and family affairs, as well as on sexual abuse and family violence issues.

Cross-country data for the OECD also show that the more women ministers there are the stronger the confidence in national government is. And finally, how can governments credibly press business to do better on gender equality if they the public sector is not leading by example?

Sadly, however, my daughter’s view of female leaders is not shared by everybody. Data from the World Values Survey shows that many people still believe that on the whole men make better political leaders than women do: even in Sweden, which does so well on many counts of gender equality, 11% have this perception, rising to almost 20% in Germany and the United States and a whopping 68% in Turkey. Without giving women the chance to become political leaders we will not be able to prove the sceptics wrong.

Useful links

OECD Gender Data Portal

OECD Women in Government Webpage

Improving Women’s Access to Leadership: What Works?, Background Report to the Conference on Improving Women’s Access to LeadershipOECD (2016),

2015 OECD Recommendation of the Council on Gender Equality in Public Life

Empowering women is key to improving food security and resilience in West Africa

women-processing-fishRichard Clarke, Sahel and West Africa Club (SWAC) Secretariat

Food insecurity remains unacceptably high in West Africa. According to the Food Crisis Prevention Network, nearly 9.5 million people in the region required food assistance as well as measures to protect their livelihoods and combat malnutrition between June and August 2016, despite significant improvements since the 1990s. FAO data also shows that changing trends have seen women representing approximately 50% of the agricultural labour force on the African continent, while IFAD estimates that women contribute 89% of agricultural employment in Sahelian countries. Thus, women’s contributions to food systems across West Africa have both widespread implications and prospects for food security and resilience in the region, a subject upon which Donatella Gnisci has written a paper for the OECD/SWAC West African Papers Series.

With equality and empowerment issues featuring strongly on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, particularly through Sustainable Development Goal 5, never has there been a more pertinent time to stimulate policy debate on this subject.

Developing a greater understanding of the subject must always be the first step in the process of policy analysis and design. This latest West African Paper informs the debate by describing the ways in which women participate in the four broad activities of the region’s food system before making its own policy recommendations.

Women are involved in all areas of food production, whether staple foods, cash crops or livestock. Men and women often work side-by-side, but cropping patterns and task allocation are often gender specific with subsequent impacts on crop selection, harvesting and consumption decisions, as observed in Côte D’Ivoire. However, access to land, inputs, credit and training (amongst other productive resources) reveals ingrained gender inequalities that put women at a disadvantage in managing their land. These disparities are exacerbated when education levels differ between genders, as shown in productivity gap differentials in Niger, which has been shown by the AfDB to have a huge impact on national economies.

Women are involved in processing activities across all three broad categories of food: cereals and vegetables, fish and meat. Tasks vary from cleaning and grinding, to salting and fermenting, to cooking and marketing. These post-harvest activities attract both female labour and entrepreneurship in West Africa, motivated by both a lack of alternative employment opportunities and potentially profitable markets. Notably, the fish processing industry in the Casamance region of Senegal is 90% controlled by women with hired labour predominantly male. This has led to the formation of women’s networks in many parts of the region, who, amongst other roles, are seeking to address the insufficient access to capital, technologies and training that remain barriers to greater female participation in the sector, relative to those faced by men.

Women continue to be the pivot of local food distribution systems and often have monopolies on street-food vending as in Ghana and Niger, with preparing and selling food second only to agricultural production as a source of income for women working in the region’s food system. Distribution is in fact often done in conjunction with these activities. The rise of supermarkets in the region can create substantial business opportunities for women in the sector, but only if they can meet the quality and consistency standards of suppliers. This is a challenge for female farmers and entrepreneurs in particular who are often at a disadvantage in their access to distribution networks and management experience in comparison to their male counterparts.

Consumption and nutrition
In West African societies, women and girls have predominant roles in preparing food for their dependents as part of their non-remunerated roles in the community. Women need not only the purchasing power to improve their community’s diets, but also the education to prepare nutritious foods. This is suggested to be the case in Senegal relative to Mali, which has much lower levels of stunting in children despite having a similar level of GDP. Furthermore, tailored health services must be provided to support women who are regularly laden with heavy workloads but put the nutrition needs of their dependents before their own. The risks of this are heightened when women’s bodies are weakened by early or serial pregnancies and from the strains of child-raising, common across the region.

In West Africa, positive steps have been taken by regional organisations such as ECOWAS, UEMOA and CILSS to strengthen the capacities of national ministries working on gender equality. However, greater empowerment of women at all levels of society associated with activities throughout the region’s food system is required if malnutrition rates are to be reduced and resilience of communities strengthened. This necessitates a broadening in scope of current activities to the implementation of multi-sector policies that influence gender relations at household, societal and political levels. In turn, a virtuous circle of empowerment and greater participation of women throughout the regional food system can be generated. Strengthening women’s networks to provide the services required to aid their empowerment appears to be a positive short-run step.

However, tackling gender inequalities at every level and across every sector is required if real empowerment is to be realised. This struggle must not only be a women’s struggle, but a societal one too, embodied in community activities and public policy.

Useful links

The main sector of economic activity in West Africa consists of feeding its population

Moving beyond agriculture: It’s food that matters!

Sahel and West Africa Club Forum: Resilience and Food Security in West Africa

Gender inequality: Breaking the “grass” ceiling in emerging economies

employment outlook

Alastair Wood and Paolo Falco, OECD Directorate for Employment, Labour and Social Affairs

The Euro 2016 football tournament is over. Well done to everyone involved and especially to the champions Portugal. Now we can take a breather and look forward to the women’s tournament next year. Football is known for bringing people together all over the world, but although women’s football is garnering more media attention, and participation levels are rising, it is also an area where gender gaps in participation and pay are still very large: In 2012 for example, the famous Brazilian footballer, Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior had his monthly salary increased to around 1.5 million Reals at his then club Santos, a sum that would have covered the cost of the whole women’s team for an entire year. And ask Steph Houghton, the top female English player, what she thinks about earning almost 10 times less a year (£35,000) than what the top male earner, Wayne Rooney, takes home in a week (around £300,000).

Beyond the spendthrift and extravagant world of men’s football, gender inequality is also a sad reality for too many workers in the everyday labour market. Recent OECD data shows the average gender pay gap is currently around 16% in OECD countries, but the problem is not just confined to advanced economies. Looking at 16 emerging economies that cover over half the world’s population, our latest OECD Employment Outlook shows that the average gender pay gap rises to 19%. In other words, for every dollar a man makes, a woman in emerging economies only makes about 80 cents. Of course, one reason is that in the emerging world women are even more under-represented in better-paid jobs – men are more likely to be employed in the goods-producing sector and construction, while women are considerably more likely to be employed in the (less well-paid) social and personal service sector. Women are also considerably less likely than men to be in top executive positions.

But that’s not the entire story. Even when they do succeed in securing similar jobs with the same level of education, women are still paid significantly less than men. Another finding in our study indicates that often the majority of working women in emerging economies are self-employed, but they own smaller and less profitable businesses than men. This is the result of inequalities in access to credit and of gender gaps in financial literacy and business-related knowledge.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the share of young people not in employment, education or training (NEET) is higher among women than men, partly reflecting motherhood at a young age in some emerging economies, and culturally-induced behaviour in general. This is also the case for the OECD as a whole, but the gender difference in this share is far more pronounced in emerging economies (17.9 percentage points, almost four times larger than the OECD average of 4.7 percentage points). Reducing gender gaps in labour market outcomes (participation, earnings, NEET rate, etc.) have rightly been the focus of global efforts in the last few years. G20 commitments such as reducing the gap in labour force participation rates between men and women by 25% by the year 2025 will hopefully bring millions more women into the labour market, and there are similar efforts to increase participation of women in STEM-related jobs (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) that aim to give us generations of well-paid female engineers, mathematicians and scientists.

Indeed, there are already signs of progress, but change is slow and uneven. In Chile and Costa Rica for example, the gender participation gap has narrowed by over 20 percentage points since the mid-1990s, while the largest gaps persist in both Egypt and India, where labour participation rates are over 50 percentage points higher for men compared to women. And if you are a girl and you want to become a top manager, then you may want to move to Latin America: in Chile, Colombia, Brazil, Mexico, and Costa Rica, women account for a higher share of top management and executive positions than the OECD average of 32%. Investment in education and increased efforts to encourage women to undertake careers in STEM fields may be partly responsible for this advancement.

Another piece of good news is that gender gaps in educational attainment have also been shrinking in recent decades: enrolment rates in primary and secondary education are today almost identical for boys and girls, and in many countries women are now attending tertiary education more frequently than men. Unfortunately this is not true for all socio-economic groups as girls from poorer families are still much less likely to be enrolled in school at all levels of education.

So what can we do to reduce gender gaps further? Are we condemned to passively accept that the (r)evolution towards global gender equality will be a slow-moving progression as the decades pass us by, especially in emerging countries? Definitely not. Our study helps policy makers identify actions that can have the biggest impact in helping to close the gender gap. Here are a few examples.

  • Tell your girls they can be rocket scientists: Removing gender bias at a young age and encouraging more women to take up STEM-related jobs would help to end stereotypes about appropriate areas of work for boys and girls, and inspire women to enter into better paid jobs.
  • Give mums a real choice to go back to work: Subsidising childcare and creating real incentives for fathers to take parental leave are two important measures of the available options to support mothers’ careers.
  • Ensure women have an equal chance to access credit and be fairly treated at work: Gender discrimination by credit providers and by businesses when hiring and paying their staff, and specifically against pregnant women, should be addressed in formal legislation. Inheritance laws that favour men should be changed and governments should specifically target women when enhancing financial education.

Reverting to football, it is interesting to note that all four countries that reached the semi-finals in the last women’s European football tournament had smaller gender pay gaps than the OECD average, and 3 out of 4 had better-than-average female rates of participation in the labour market. Football is hardly representative of the real world, but the gender gap, just like football, is a truly global phenomenon and has been engrained in societies throughout the world. As emerging economies develop economically, let’s try to help them also develop effective policies for “locking in” more gender equality in their society. Beyond the moral and social imperative, it will help them emerge economically stronger – women are the biggest untapped potential for economic growth. Closing gender gaps would therefore help both emerging and developed economies score a goal for economic growth while also promoting more inclusive societies.

Useful links

OECD work on gender equality

Women taking risks: closing the gender gap in entrepreneurship

EAG 2015OECD Statistics Directorate

Women entrepreneurship is increasingly recognised as a key source of employment creation and innovation, and for addressing inequalities. McKinsey for example have just published a study estimating that “$12 trillion could be added to global GDP by 2025 by advancing women’s equality.” Women entrepreneurs could be a major part of this, but the latest figures presented in the OECD’s Entrepreneurship at a Glance 2015 show that in OECD countries there are two and a half times more men than women that are self-employed with paid employees. On average, 2.2% of all employed women are entrepreneurs who employ paid personnel, while the average for men is 5.6%. There are gender differences also when looking at the sectors of entrepreneurial activity, with a higher concentration of women in the services sector, particularly trade and hotels, while only few have businesses in manufacturing and construction. However, these patterns seem to be changing for young women entrepreneurs. Evidence points to considerable diversity in many OECD countries, including high shares of young women owning businesses in the construction sector, suggesting that stereotype barriers may be eroding.

Encouraging findings are also observed in terms of earnings from self-employment. Although a gender gap continues to exist in all countries, it has nevertheless decreased significantly in many. This is particularly true for Belgium, Finland, Iceland, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands where the gap has closed by more than 10% in recent years (see figures 1 and 2).

Figure 1. Gender gap in self-employment earnings

Click to see full size or on the link below for the original data


Figure 2. Changes in gender gap in self-employment earnings

Percentage points, 2010-11 average compared to 2006-07 average

Fig 2
Click to see full size or on the link below for the original data


This could be an important driver for inspiring entrepreneurial motivation among women. Indeed, the fear of low or erratic earnings is one of the main reasons why many people do not become entrepreneurs. While entrepreneurship is a pathway to wealth for highly successful individuals, many people that are self-employed struggle instead with relatively low incomes, a condition that results in lower opportunities to accumulate savings and a higher likelihood of falling into poverty if the business fails.

Inevitably, there are risks when choosing to set-up a new business. But some of these risks, like achieving a gratifying remuneration or attaining a satisfactory work-life balance are often more inhibiting for women than for men. In fact, independently of a country’s economic context and cultural attitude toward entrepreneurship, women always appear less prone to take the risk of creating their own business than men (see figure 3). The share of men who would rather take a risk and build their own business than work for someone else is larger in virtually all countries, from high income OECD countries to least developed low income economies. There are a few exceptions where woman are more willing to take the risk, including Mexico and South Africa.

Figure 3. Willingness to take the entrepreneurial risk

2013, Percentage

Fig 3
Click to see full size or on the link below for the original data


Why are women less willing to engage in entrepreneurship? Perhaps because the share of women declaring that they have access to money or training to start-up and grow a business is always inferior to the corresponding share of men. As expected, the average share of women having access to money or training is the highest in OECD countries and lowest in low income countries. However, the main fact remains that across all countries in the world there is an important gender gap in accessing funds and training which are key ingredients for becoming an entrepreneur.

Evaluating the policies that support women entrepreneurs is complicated by the difficulty of measuring gender differences in entrepreneurship. The evidence presented Entrepreneurship at a Glance 2015 clearly shows that policy initiatives are needed to improve access to finance and training for setting up a business. Such initiatives would have a beneficial impact on women’s willingness to become entrepreneurs.

Useful links

Entrepreneurship at a Glance 2015

Gender Data Portal