Bringing more women into the labour force is not only an acknowledgement of their right to be gainfully employed but will actually be a huge boost to the economy.
A new study, “The Power of Parity: Advancing Women’s Equality in Asia Pacific (Focus: The Philippines)”, found that Asia Pacific countries could raise their annual collective gross domestic product (GDP) by 2025 by as much as $4.5 trillion (Bt144 trillion), “a 12-per cent increase over the business as usual trajectory”, by advancing women’s equality.
The study, which was undertaken by McKinsey Global Institute (MGI), the business and economics research arm of McKinsey and Company, concluded that all countries in the region would benefit from advancing women’s equality.
“Across Asia-Pacific, we estimate that 58 per cent of the opportunity would come from raising the labour force participation ratio, 17 per cent from increasing the number of hours women work, and the remaining 25 per cent from more women working in higher-productivity sectors,” the report’s authors said.
The study, which was the subject of a recent panel discussion sponsored by Australian Aid, found that the Philippines was leading other Asia-Pacific countries in terms of gender equality in work. It was at par with Australia, New Zealand and Singapore on gender equality in society, particularly in essential services such as education, maternal and reproductive health, financial and digital inclusion, legal protection and political voice.
But Kristine Romano, managing partner in the Philippines of McKinsey & Co., said some 14 per cent of Filipino women were still not financially included and “women college graduates” were not making it in the workforce.
In the panel discussion, Romano said while some 15 per cent of women in the corporate world became board members, only 3 per cent became chief executive officers.
Romano said the Philippines could add $40 billion to its annual GDP in 2025 by advancing women’s equality and bringing more women into the workforce.
Panelists pointed out that the lack of access to quality and reliable child care was a major barrier to women’s participation in the workforce or a major reason for their leaving employment.
Amy Luinstra, programme manager and gender adviser for the International Finance Corp of the World Bank group, presented specific examples of companies in India, Japan and Turkey that showed that providing childcare was an effective way to keep skilled and experienced women employees.
Employers in those countries provided extended maternity leave, access to expert and quality childcare and more flexible working arrangements to women. Luinstra said employers realised it was more costly to replace a skilled worker. Replacements would have to be trained and it would take a while before they acquired the skills of employees who left.
“Investment in women can really pay off,” she said. It would mean higher retention rates, increased productivity and better gender diversity. Employers who adapted to the needs of women also became employers of choice and found it easier to recruit skilled workers.
But Luinstra stressed that, with gender equality policies, “one size does not fit all”. However, childcare should be part of a company’s overall strategy, and it should be extended to both parents.
“Gender equality should not be just a fad but should be institutionalised,” said Amor Curaming, programme manager for the Philippine Business Coalition for Women Empowerment. She pointed out that policies on gender equality were often not written down, so if leadership changed the gains achieved could be lost.
She encouraged companies to undergo the Economic Dividends for Gender Equality (Edge) assessment. Edge is a diagnostic and certification system for workplace gender equality.
Maria Aurora Geotina-Garcia, chair of the Philippine Women’s Economic Network, said that despite the report’s generally positive assessment of the Philippines, Filipino women were still significantly underrepresented in the workforce. She urged companies to “walk the talk” on women’s empowerment.