Women — and particularly mothers — are a valuable workforce resource and have the ability to fill a wide variety of roles. Women’s employment is essential for not only advancing gender equality within the workforce, but ensuring a sustainable future as it means less pressure for high birth rates and net migration.
In 2012, the female employment rate reached an average of 57.2 per cent in countries that are members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Widening gender gaps in employment can partly be attributed to a mixture of economic and socio-cultural factors. Although discrimination based on gender, maternity, paternity or family responsibility is against the law in most OECD and G20 countries, it continues to prevail within the workplace. Other factors that affect women’s participation in the labour market are the lack of flexibility with regard to working time for mothers and rarity of quality part-time employment opportunities.
Policymakers are beginning to recognize that many more women could work if these types of obstacles were reduced and conditions were made right. For example, the government of Australia has stated that if the gender gap in employment were reduced by 25 per cent by 2025, more than 100 million women would join the workforce in G20 countries, boosting GDP growth by as much as 1.6 per cent.
Governments should create policies that build an environment that encourages gender equality in employment. The government of the United Kingdom is “introducing shared parental leave and pay that will allow couples to choose how they share care for their child in the first year after birth” starting in April 2015, according to Employment Minister Jo Swinson.
While new policies such as the United Kingdom’s shared parental leave are important steps in supporting mothers in the workforce, there is still a need for improving women’s rights. Governments could not only provide support for parents to help them obtain work, but assist them in maintaining their skill sets while they are on maternity or paternity leave.