February 13, 2014

Why does gender matter? How is it important for governments and firms? These were some of the questions raised by Jeni Klugman, the World Bank’s director of gender and development, during a recent talk at SIPA.

Entitled “Gender Equality and Economic Development: An Overview of Patterns, Constraints and Emerging Solutions,” the February 4 event was sponsored by the Economic and Political Development concentration and the Gender and Public Policy specialization.

According to Klugman, the benefits of addressing gender inequality in the workplace are clear. Firms benefit from increasing and diversifying their talent pools and expanding the consumer market, and as jobs empower women, poverty declines and economic growth increases.

“Legal discrimination is a common barrier to women’s work,” Klugman said. “These barriers include restricting women’s ability to access institutions, own or use property, build credit, or get a job.”

As part of the efforts of the World Bank to address gender inequality, Klugman talked about the bank’s new gender data portal, which allows users to access data from the World Bank, UN databases, national statistical agencies, and other international organizations. “Data gaps pose major challenges to evidence-based policy-making and this need to be addressed,” Klugman said.

The bank is currently engaged in various research projects such as its Women, Business, and the Law initiative, which examines laws and regulations affecting women’s prospects as entrepreneurs and employees. The ultimate goal is promoting research and policy discussions on how to improve women’s economic opportunities and outcomes.

At SIPA, Klugman shared some of the findings of the World Bank’s research and revealed that of the 143 countries studied, 128 have at least one legal difference between women and men.

She argued that jobs can increase women’s agency; in other words, they increase one’s ability to make their own choices and act upon them.

“In most developing countries, women have fewer choices in fundamental areas of day-to-day life, including their own movements, health decisions, ability to use household assets, and whether and when to go to school, work, or other economic-related activities,” Klugman said. “Without addressing these critical constraints on agency, women cannot take full advantage of potential economic opportunities.”

For Klugman, governments can play “a critical role in leveling the playing field for women’s economic opportunities” by coordinating policies across the lifecycle that tackle inequalities through education and training and by removing discrimination and disincentives in laws, tax codes, and subsidies.

As for the private sector, Klugman pointed out the importance of making gender equality a corporate and investment priority. “Public policy can help remove and offset constraints, but gender equality at work cannot be achieved without job creation in the private sector,” Klugman said. “Some firms are already seeing the benefits of reducing gender barriers and increasing female representation in corporate management.”

— Valle Aviles Pinedo MIA ’14