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Work-related gender gaps persist but solutions are clear

MD Staff

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A future of work  in which women will no longer lag behind men is within reach, but it will take a quantum leap, not just hesitant incremental steps, to get there, according to a new International Labour Organization (ILO) report published for International Women’s Day  on 8 March.

“We need to make it happen, and the report, A Quantum leap for gender equality: For a better future of work for all , provides a way forward,” said Manuela Tomei, Director, ILO Conditions of Work and Equality Department.

The report is the culmination of five years of work under the ILO’s Women at Work Centenary Initiative .

It finds that in the last 27 years the difference in the employment rates for men and women has shrunk by less than two percentage points. In 2018, women are still 26 percentage points less likely to be in employment than men. This contrasts with the findings of an ILO-Gallup 2017 global report  on women’s and men’s preferences about women’s participation in paid work, which found that 70 per cent of women prefer to have a job rather than staying at home and that men agree.

In addition, between 2005 and 2015, the ‘motherhood employment penalty’, the difference in the proportion of adult women with children under six years in employment, compared to women without young children, increased significantly, by 38 per cent.

Moreover, women are still underrepresented at the top, a situation that has changed very little in the last 30 years. Fewer than one third of managers are women, although they are likely to be better educated than their male counterparts. The report shows generally that education is not the main reason for lower employment rates and lower pay of women, but rather that women do not receive the same dividends for education as men.

There is also a ‘motherhood leadership penalty’: only 25 per cent of managers with children under six years of age are women. Women’s share rises to 31 per cent for managers without young children.

The gender wage gap remains at an average of 20 per cent globally. Mothers experience a ‘motherhood wage penalty’ that compounds across their working life, while fathers enjoy a wage premium.

“A number of factors are blocking equality in employment, and the one playing the largest role is caregiving,” said Tomei. “In the last 20 years, the amount of time women spent on unpaid care and domestic work has hardly fallen, and men’s has increased by just eight minutes a day. At this pace of change it will take more than 200 years to achieve equality in time spent in unpaid care work.”

The report sets out laws and practices that are changing this dynamic, for a more equal sharing of care within the family, and between the family and the State. “When men share unpaid care work more equally, more women are found in managerial positions,” added Tomei, highlighting the role of men in creating a more gender-equal work of work.

The report also includes findings from ‘real time’ data, gathered by the professional networking website LinkedIn from five countries, covering 22 per cent of the global employed population in three different regions. This joint ILO-LinkedIn collaboration found that women with digital skills – currently a requirement for the most-in-demand and highest paying jobs in science, technology, engineering and maths-related (STEM) – are only between a third and a quarter of LinkedIn members with such skills. However, it also revealed that the women who reach director-level positions get there faster, more than a year earlier than their male counterparts.

The Quantum Leap report shows that achieving gender equality will mean policy changes and actions in a range of mutually reinforcing areas, and it points to measures that can lead towards a transformative and measurable agenda for gender equality. The path of rights is the foundation for a more equal world of work, including the right to equal opportunities, the right to be free from discrimination, violence and harassment, and to equal pay for work of equal value.

A future of work where everyone can care more, with time to care and inclusive care policies and structures is also strongly advocated in the report. A more caring future of work will also mean significant employment creation. The need for universal social protection and a sound macroeconomic framework is also addressed. With the wide-ranging global transformations underway – technological, demographic and climate change – the report calls for greater efforts to engage and support women through work transitions. Increasing women’s voice and representation will also be essential to ensure all the other paths are truly effective.

“We will not get the future of work with social justice we need unless we accelerate action to improve progress on gender equality at work. We already know what needs to be done,” said ILO Director-General Guy Ryder. “We need to implement a transformative agenda that includes enforcement of laws and regulations – perhaps we may even need to revisit those laws and regulations – backed by investment in services that level the playing field for women, such as care and social protection, and a more flexible approach to both working hours and working careers. And there is the persistent attitudinal challenge of attitudes to women joining the workforce and their place in it.”

“We know much more now about gender gaps and what drives them, and what needs to be done to make meaningful progress on gender equality in the world of work – the path is clear,” said Shauna Olney, Chief Gender, Equality and Diversity & ILOAIDS Branch. “With commitment and courageous choices, there can be a quantum leap, so that the future of work does not reinforce the inequalities of the past. And this will benefit everyone.”

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SMEs are driving job growth, but need higher investment in skills, innovation and tech

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Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) have been a significant driver of employment growth in recent years, mainly through the creation of new firms, including in high-growth sectors such as information and communication technologies (ICT). But the new OECD SME and Entrepreneurship Outlook highlights that most SME job creation has been in sectors with below average productivity levels, with SMEs typically paying employees around 20 percent less than large firms.

While SMEs are more engaged in new organisational or marketing practices than large firms, and sometimes more innovative in developing new products and processes, many continue to struggle disproportionately to navigate the increasing complexity in technologies and markets.

“We need a fundamental rethinking of SME and entrepreneurship policies to improve business conditions and access to resources. This will enable workers to have higher wages and greater productivity, as smaller employers harness major trends like digitalisation,” said OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría, launching the report at the annual OECD Forum. “We need a renewed policy and measurement agenda to understand how countries, regions and cities can capitalise on their many diverse small businesses as drivers for inclusive and sustainable growth.”

Bringing together unique data and evidence on SME performance and policies, this first edition of the OECD SME and Entrepreneurship Outlook offers policymakers new benchmarking tools and insights on good practices to help frame national SME and entrepreneurship policies. The report illustrates that SMEs are more dependent on the business ecosystem and the policy environment than large companies, and identifies a number of key challenges:

  • While the wage gap is smaller for exporting SMEs, trade barriers are disproportionately large, and recent trade tensions may further hamper their ability to benefit from globalisation.
  • SMEs struggle to combine different types of innovation, and continue to face size-related barriers in accessing strategic resources, such as skills, finance and knowledge. A quarter of SMEs in the EU reported a lack of skilled staff or experienced managers as their most important problem and, in most OECD countries, less than one-quarter of small firms provided ICT training in 2018.
  • The digital transformation provides scope for productivity growth but large adoption gaps exist compared to larger firms, with half as many small firms in the OECD investing in cloud computing services in 2016, for example.

Governments have been proactive in their efforts to improve framework conditions and address size-related barriers for SMEs. The 36 country profiles in the OECD SME and Entrepreneurship Outlook show that, in the OECD area, governments are focused on accelerating innovation diffusion to SMEs; ensuring SMEs keep pace with the digital transformation; engaging SMEs in upskilling; scaling-up innovation networks and MNE-SME linkages; and levelling the playing field in product markets, public procurement and ‘lead’ innovative markets. Small businesses are also benefiting from the strengthening of e-government services and from reforms undertaken in OECD countries aiming to lower administrative and tax burdens and enforce smart regulation.

Despite these efforts, the complexity of regulatory procedures remains a major obstacle for SMEs and entrepreneurs. Furthermore, the pace of structural reform has slowed in recent years and progress remains uneven in areas that are key for business creation and SME investment, such as insolvency regimes, civil justice and enforcement of competition laws.

The report argues for more efficient governance and more coherent arrangements across national and subnational levels, regions and cities. It also calls for fostering international peer learning and enhanced monitoring and evaluation capacity.

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Urgent action needed to address growing opioid crisis

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Governments should treat the opioid epidemic as a public health crisis and improve treatment, care and support for people misusing opioids. Overdose deaths continue to rise, fuelled by an increase in prescription and over-prescription of opioids for pain management and the illicit drugs trade, according to a new OECD report.

Addressing Problematic Opioid Use in OECD Countries examines how, over the past few years, the crisis has devastated families and communities, especially in North America. It documents that deaths are also rising sharply in Sweden, Norway, Ireland, and England and Wales.

Between 2011 and 2016, in the 25 OECD countries with available data, opioid-related deaths increased by more than 20%. In Canada, for example, there were more than ten thousand opioid-related deaths between January 2016 and September 2018, with rates increasing from 8.4 per 100,000 people to 11.8 over this period. Opioid abuse has also put a growing burden on health services through hospitalisation and emergency room visits.  

“The opioid epidemic has hit the most vulnerable hardest,” said Gabriela Ramos, OECD Chief of Staff and G20 Sherpa, launching the report in Paris. “Governments need to take decisive action to stop the tragic loss of life and address the terrible social, emotional and economic costs of addiction with better treatment and health policy solutions. But the most effective policy remains prevention.”

The majority of those who die in Europe are men, accounting for 3 out of 4 deaths. However, in the United States, opioid use has been rising among pregnant women, particularly among those on low incomes. Having a mental health disorder was also associated with a two-fold greater use of prescription opioids in the US.

Prisoners too are vulnerable. The prevalence rate of opioid use disorders in Europe was less than 1% among the general public but averaged 30% in the prison population. Social and economic conditions, such as unemployment and housing, have also contributed to the epidemic.

An increase in prescription and over-prescription of opioids for pain management is among the factors driving the crisis. Governments should review industry regulations to ensure they protect people from harm as, since the late 1990s, manufacturers have consistently downplayed the problematic effect of opioids.

Doctors should improve their prescribing practices, for instance through evidence-based clinical guidelines and increased surveillance of opioid prescriptions. Governments can also regulate  marketing and financial relationships with opioid manufacturers. Coverage for long-term medication-assisted therapy, such as methadone and buprenorphine, should be expanded, in coordination with harm minimisation specialised services for infectious diseases management, such as HIV and hepatitis.

Strengthening the integration of health and social services, such as unemployment and housing support, and criminal justice systems would help improve treatment for people with Opioid Use Disorder.

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Italy should boost spending and strengthen cooperation and integration of employment services

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Italy should boost spending and cooperation at national and regional levels as part of broader efforts to help more people into work and reduce the country’s high unemployment rate, according to a new OECD report.

Strengthening Active Labour Market Policies in Italy says that the country faces greater labour market challenges than most other OECD countries. The employment rate and labour productivity are low, youth unemployment is still around 30% and the gender employment gap and long-term unemployment are decreasing only slowly.

Regional disparities are high and persistent compared to most other OECD countries. Spending on active labour market policies (0.51% of GDP) is close to the OECD average but well below the average of EU countries and levels in countries with similar unemployment rates. Moreover, active labour market policies are not well targeted to the most effective programmes and people in need, relying heavily on employment incentives. Only 2% of the budget is devoted to services that have internationally proved to be more cost-effective, such as job mediation, job placement and related services.

Public employment services play only a modest role as job brokers. Only about half of unemployed persons in Italy are registered with the public employment service (centri per l’impiego) and only half of them use these services to look for work. Access to and quality of employment services vary greatly across the country.

“To improve the performance of employment services, there is a need for further funding, boosting the local offices’ staff and their skills and modernising the IT infrastructure,” said Stefano Scarpetta, OECD Director for Employment, Labour and Social Affairs, launching the report in Rome. “The ongoing reform started by the Jobs Act and the recent additional financial allocations to the system of public employment services have the potential to improve the performance of employment services in Italy.” 

However, for the real gains to the labour market to emerge, cooperation and co-ordination should be simultaneously introduced in the system. Within the decentralised governance system, national and regional authorities need to agree on a binding framework for accountability, enabling to measure performance of employment offices according to a set of indicators and their regionally-adjusted target levels.

The funding of local offices from the state budget should be somewhat contingent not only on the number of clients to serve but also on improvements in performance indicators, thus providing incentives to improve the quality and effectiveness of services provided.

The recent introduction of the citizen income (Reddito di cittadinanza) adds further responsibilities to the system of employment services as the new benefit recipients should receive support with job-search and should be provided the necessary active measures to succeed in that. As such, improvements in the investment and performance of the system of employment services become today more critical than ever.

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