True gender equality at work could add $12tn to global economy

The gender debate is, in most western circles, rapidly closing for questioning - the evidence continues to mount that not only is excluding women from many areas of life just poor form, but it's also economically unsound. 

The latest report out by McKinsey Global Insights (MGI) on The Power of Global Gender Parity says that taking steps to close the global gender gap in employment would double the contribution of women to global GDP over the next decade - not an insignificant contribution. 

If women had the same opportunities as men, economically speaking, it would add up to US$28 trillion (26 per cent) to global annual GDP in 2025 - the equivalent size of the US and China's combined economies. 

The results are double that of other studies, MGI says, because of the depth of their reporting. This means that other estimates may have appeared less and perhaps not so worthwhile pursuing at the very minimum from an economic perspective. 

How did they work this out?

MGI mapped 15 gender equality indicators across 95 countries, with 40 countries coming in with high or extremely high levels of gender inequality on half the indicators. We've got a way  to go before gender equality is broadly accepted, even in Australia and other western countries where we like to think of ourselves as less gender biased than some others. 

There are four indicator categories, which include equality in:

  1. work;
  2. essential services;
  3. enablers of economic opportunity, legal protection and political voice; and
  4. physical security and autonomy. 

It isn't just advanced economies that will see the benefits, as in fact it's developing countries that have fewer women in the high-productivity workforce. But, their work is cut out for them culturally. Developing countries could see increases of annual GDP in 2025 by over 10 per cent compared to what MGI call the 'business as usual' approach - what we're doing now, with the biggest GDP booster shots (theoretically) seen in India and Latin America. 

MGI invented a new Gender Parity Score (GPS), measuring incrementally how far each country has travelled in their ideal goal of 1.00 GPS. The lowest on the list is South Asia (excluding India) with 0.44, and the highest is North America and Oceania 0.74 GPS. 

Where our hurdles lie

A society's beliefs about the roles of women directly impact gender equality in work, and we don't get to have one without the other. There is no such thing as a country that has high gender equality but low gender equality in work. 

The usual barriers come into play as to where equality at work (and therefore in life) is crippled: unequal education levels, financial and digital exclusion, lack of legal protection and political representation, domestic violence, and high levels of unpaid care. 

Interventions that can bridge the gender gap

  • Financial incentives and support
  • Technology and infrastructure
  • Creating economic opportunities
  • Capability building
  • Advocacy and shaping attitudes
  • Laws, policies and regulations

The report then goes into detail about 75 specific interventions that can be tailored to each locale and culture as required to work on these details in the way that suits them best. Private companies will benefit both directly and indirectly by taking action - that is, putting women into higher-paid high-productivity positions more often. 


The authors acknowledge that this level of change isn't a short-term goal - it is unrealistic in the extreme, but if all countries tried to match their regional best performer incrementally, it would result in a GDP increase globally of as much as $12 trillion in 2025. That would take a commitment from everyone, with this report detailing the pathway that could potentially take. 

Across the 95 countries, 37 per cent of global GDP is generated by women, despite accounting for half of all working-age people. Each region varies considerably in these numbers.

Output generated by women:

  • India = 17 per cent
  • The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) = 18 per cent
  • South Asia (excluding India) = 24 per cent
  • North America, Oceania, China, Eastern Europe and Central Asia =  40-41 per cent

Unpaid work by women today is estimated to amount to as much as US$10 trillion of output per year - 13 per cent of global GDP. Domestic work and caring aren't considered under global GDP, but 75 per cent of this work is done by women. 

The scene being set is one where women are participating globally (at prime working age) at 95 per cent, instead of the current 65 per cent. It is also one where women aren't continuously working in the lower-paid sectors - that is, more part-time work in sectors like agriculture that don't require higher levels of education and can support part-time workers (most often due to caring for children or the elderly). Shifting women into higher-productivity sectors such as those men work in predominantly would contribute another 23 per cent to the opportunity.

Having women in higher-productivity jobs and men sharing more unpaid labour with women would balance out the scales and increase global GDP. 

The power of parity: How advancing women’s equality can add $12 trillion to global growth