Equality of women in the global workforce would benefit both women and men. Seriously. According to Eileen Pennington of the Women's Empowerment Program for the Asia Foundation, when women make money, they invest more into their homes and childcare improving overall life, and even decreasing infant mortality. Increased labor force participation increases growth and for countries like Japan with both a shrinking population and an aging workforce, they need every boost they can get. The Middle East is the only region that has a higher gender gap in the workfoce than Asia, meaning countries like Korea, China, and Japan have a lot of room for improvement, and a lot of opportunities for economic growth.
In order to increase the number of women in the workforce, countries like the United States should help develop infrastructure, access to finance, technology, and resources to expand networking opportunities. Infrastructure may not be the first thing that comes to mind when someone is brainstorming ways to increase women's participation in the workforce, but in making the subways and buildings more safe for women, there are more opportunities for them to pursue economic activities. For example, in Malaysia there is a separate subway car for female riders. Also, in India and Japan there are cameras and help buttons in the subways. Countries can also increase security around public transportation to reduce the likelihood of an attack.
Countries in Asia derive a large amount of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) from Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEs). Therefore, women's involvement in SMEs is extremely important for a countries growth. Women entrepreneurs and owners of SMEs consistently face barriers in the workforce such as a smaller amount of employees, lower profit, and less connections from networking. Since female-owned SMEs hire more women as employees, it is essential that we address the barriers of growth.
Both females and men are found to invest their entire savings into an SME due to the tedious paperwork and high amount of interest rates. Access to finance is one area that the United States exchange ideas with countries on, sharing our own experiences with high interest rates and difficult paperwork. Another barrier of growth is access to technology. Technology is under used in businesses owned by women. Education from other countries on using IT in the workplace would be a great step toward promoting growth. For example, women would be able to sell their products on sites such as Etsy. Finally, if women are able to expand their networks globally, there will be more opportunities to growth.
Wendy Cutler, Acting Deputy for USTR gave the opening remarks and had some amazing insights on work-life balance and being a woman in a competitive workplace. As a senior-level negotiator, WC mentioned specific difficulties women face when negotiating deals.
1) Women are tested hard([er] than men): Women must be on tome of their game in both the substance of the deal and remaining firm at the table.
2) Men, especially those from other countries, are Uncomfortable around Female Negotiators and will look at your male colleague next to you instead of directly at you during negotiations.
3) Females receive little support from their male colleagues geeennnerraaalllllllllyyyyy, and this is changing rapidly. I also know many cases where male colleagues are extremely supportive and vital partner against gender discrimination.
In addition to these hardships, WC had some suggestions for bringing more women into the workplace, and bringing women back to the workplace after childbirth.
1) Policies should be implemented from the top-down. Both Abe and Obama are doing good jobs at pushing policies through that encourage females in the workplace
2) Developing new attitudes in the workplace on women co-workers
3) Executives should come to terms with their bias against women employees and objectively implement workplace policies that will make the playing field even
4) Flexible work policies will allow for women (and men) a better work-life balance
5) Women who are already in the field should mentor junior women on work issues, especially during the juncture when and if women decide to have children
6) "Go Home" observation-- does working long hours lead to increased productivity?
WC's final point really resonated with me: "As women begin assuming more cabinet position or women begin getting more senior level positions in the Japanese bureaucracy, there is going to be an issue in the workforce. We've seen this in the United States, and that is one when men feel could feel that these are jobs they could have gotten and had they been a woman, they would have gotten the job. And then even woman feeling, 'Well did I get that job because I'm a woman, or did I earn that job because of merit? Because I've worked so hard for this job and I want to know I got it because I earned it. " (statement started at the 23:17 mark in the video)
This statement addresses the potential for male resentment toward women in the workforce over jobs. A lot of politics can play into employment and in the real world, not all jobs are given over merit. An honest conversation should take place in the work place on how jobs are assigned and promotions are given.
I want to highlight again that increasing women in the workplace not only benefits females, but men too. In the words of Wendy Cutler "Women's empowerment is not at the expense of men." In fact, the solidarity movement He For She 's platform is that Gender equality is not only a women’s issue, it is a human rights issue that requires male participation.
Fighting for women's rights has too often become synonymous with man-hating and if you disagree, I would encourage you to read this article on how Emma Watson finally broke down the definition of feminism.
Men, I would like to give this opportunity to extend your formal invitation. Gender equality is your issue, too. Because to date, I've seen my father’s role as a parent being valued less by society. I've seen young men suffering from mental illness, unable to ask for help for fear it would make them less of a man. -Emma Watson, UN Women Goodwill Ambassador
Check out the video from CSIS's event here!!