Getting Down to Business: Women, Work and the Global Economy

Lisner Auditorium

Seminar Report

Women comprise a little more than half the world’s population, yet significant gender gaps remain. Despite some positive developments in recent decades, progress toward gender equality is hampered by gaps in labor force participation, earnings, and the limited number of women in senior positions. This panel discussed the hurdles that many women face in accessing labor markets and advancing their careers, as well as how higher female participation could impact economic growth.

Key Points:

Lipton highlighted IMF research which shows that the economic benefits of increasing women’s participation, in both developing and developed countries, can be substantial. These effects were found across the entire spectrum of potential female economic interaction, including education, ability to participate in the labor market, and career progression. Tyson was encouraged that the gender issues have been mainstreamed at institutions such as the IMF and the World Bank, but she thought that the progress toward closing the gender gap has been too slow. The information found in research needs to be used to mobilize actors, in both the public and private sector, to implement measures that would address disparities.

Byanyima, Lipton and Nasr noted that in many countries existing tax laws can block access to opportunity or discourage female labor market participation. Lipton thought there is a lot for governments to do, but to do it in a short time frame countries will need to make considerable efforts. The IMF will assist these efforts by providing the necessary diagnostics.

In response to Byanyima who considered that the current global economy was rigged and biased toward favoring men, Pritchett noted that gender issues do not generally exist by conspiracy and if they get pointed out they are usually addressed. For example, increasing education of women was an opportunity that was taken because it could be shown that it will have obvious economic benefits. However, Byanyima countered that even though more women than men are now educated, this does not translate into an economic benefit. Why is there still a pay gap between men and women? Tyson responded that the causes were multidimensional and include education, sectoral choices, and barriers to advancement usually posed by family responsibilities. Nasr, however, thought that there are instances where women are paid less just because they are women. To address this issue, women need to be represented in decision making.

The panelists agreed that building up infrastructure, both physical and social, will be critical for enabling women to join the productive sector. Even though physical infrastructure is important for men too, Nasr highlighted that commuting to work is more challenging and high risk for women. Tyson saw the availability and accessibility of childcare as a fundamental issue. Relative to physical infrastructure the returns to improving childcare services might be hard to measure, but the benefits can be potentially very large.

Recent research by the IMF suggests that more women in senior corporate positions may also improve firms’ financial performance, a fact Nasr thought was not known widely enough. However, particularly in developing countries, she noted, much more focus needs to be on SMEs than large corporates. Women need to be able to start a company which in turn could lead to employment of other women. To achieve that, improving access to finance is one of the fundamental issues that needs to be addressed.


“Creating economic opportunities for women across the world is important from a moral standpoint, but it can also be game changing for the global economy.” David Lipton, First Deputy Managing Director, IMF

“Progress is too slow. It would take 85 years at the current rate of progress on economic indicators to eliminate the gender gap in the economy.” Laura Tyson, Professor, Haas School of Business, University of California, Berkeley

“We can’t move at this snail’s pace [of increasing female participation in decision making] and claim we are making progress.” Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director, Oxfam International

“There is a perception that enterprises that are owned by women are higher risk. However, empirical evidence shows this is not true. It is the opposite, the default rates among women are actually lower.” Sahar Nasr, Minister of International Cooperation, Egypt

“I worry that often women issues become coincident with poverty issues. Then one looks exclusively at ways in which, given women’s exclusion from the modern economy, we can make their lives marginally better. Instead we should be asking how we can actually make women more productive by connecting them effectively with the productive sector.” Lant Pritchett, Professor, Harvard University

Moderator: Katty Kay, Anchor, BBC World News America

Katty Kay is the lead anchor of BBC World News America and was previously the BBC News Washington correspondent. She is a frequent contributor on American politics on US TV networks. Kay is a Board Member at the International Women's Media Foundation (IWMF). She is the co-author, with Claire Shipman, of two New York Times bestsellers examining the role of women in the workforce, Womenomics and The Confidence Code.


David Lipton, First Deputy Managing Director, IMF

Mr. David Lipton has been First Deputy Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund in 2011. Before coming to the Fund, he was Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for International Economic Affairs at the White House. Previously, he served as Under Secretary for International Affairs at the U.S. Treasury.

Sahar Nasr, Minister of International Cooperation, Egypt

Sahar Nasr is Egypt’s Minister of International Cooperation. Nasr a Professor of Economics at the American University in Cairo and a former lead economist in the World Bank’s Finance and Private Sector Development department, has over 60 publications in the fields of financial reform, the labor market, women empowerment, and economic legislation.

Laura Tyson, Professor, Haas School of Business, University of California, Berkeley

Laura Tyson is a Professor and Director of the Institute for Business and Social Impact at the Berkeley Haas School of Business. She served as Dean of London Business School from 2002-2006 and as Dean of Berkeley-Haas from 1998-2001. Tyson was a member of the US Department of State Foreign Affairs Policy Board and a member of President Obama’s Council of Jobs and Competitiveness and the President’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board. She served in the Clinton Administration as the Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers (1993-1995) and as Director of the National Economic Council (1995 – 1996). She is a member of the Board of Directors of Morgan Stanley, AT&T, CBRE Group Inc. and Silver Spring Networks. She is an economic advisory board member of the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation.

Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director, Oxfam International

Winnie Byanyima is the Executive Director of Oxfam International. She is a leader on women’s rights, democratic governance and peace building. She served eleven years in the Ugandan Parliament, and has served at the African Union Commission and as Director of Gender and Development at the United Nations Development Program. She co-founded the 60-member Global Gender and Climate Alliance and chaired a UN task force on gender aspects of the Millennium Development Goals, and on climate change.

Lant Pritchett, Professor, Harvard University

Lant Pritchett is Professor of the Practice of International Development at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. In addition he is a Senior Fellow of the Center for Global Development and he has been co-editor of the Journal of Development Economics. He has been engaged in policy dialogue and projects with governments and civil society around the world, both with the World Bank and as a consultant while at Harvard, including some time as adviser to He graduated from Brigham Young University in 1983 with a B.S. in Economics and in 1988 from MIT with a PhD in Economics. After finishing at MIT he joined the World Bank, where he held a number of positions. In addition he has authored over 50 papers published in refereed journals.

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