'Buckle up:' New IMF chief vows 'relentless' focus on gender equality

By Andrea Shalal
FILE PHOTO: International Monetary Fund Managing Director Georgieva arrives for her first day in her new post at IMF headquarters in Washington

By Andrea Shalal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - International Monetary Fund Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva on Tuesday vowed to fight for greater gender equality at the global lender and around the world, telling a packed audience: "Buckle up. It's going to come."

Georgieva, the first person from an emerging economy to lead the IMF and only the second woman, told the IMF's fall meeting that there was hard work ahead, even at the lender, where women account for just 25% of top jobs.

The Bulgarian economist and former World Bank chief executive spoke openly about her battle scars after decades in international institutions. She said economic studies clearly showed that improving gender equality would boost growth.

She said she backed quotas for the private sector to accelerate better representation of women in C-suites, citing IMF studies that companies boosted results by 8% to 11% if they had women on their boards or senior management.

"I am in favour of quotas because otherwise it will take us a very long time to get to where we want to get," she said.

When she took over as chief executive of the World Bank in 2017, Georgieva set a goal of achieving gender parity in top roles, and the bank met that target a year later - two years ahead of schedule.

Georgieva said she would also prioritise pay equity at the lender, noting that it was not until she reached a senior position at the World Bank that she realized how much her salary had lagged that of male counterparts for many years.

She said the gender pay gap averaged 16% in advanced economies and was as high as 37% in South Korea.

Georgieva lauded a new IMF working paper on unpaid labour, which showed that women do an average of 2.7 more hours of childcare, housecleaning and other unpaid work per day than men.

The study showed the gender gap in unpaid hours had narrowed in advanced economies, but traditional gender imbalances remained in most countries.

Even in Norway, one of the most egalitarian countries in the study, women did 20% more unpaid work than men, while in Pakistan they did 1,000% more, Georgieva said.

If such work were included in calculations of gross domestic product, it would boost economic output by as much as 35% worldwide, Georgieva said. Individual countries could boost GDP significantly by getting more women into the workforce.

The study showed that reducing constraints to women's paid work could boost economic output significantly, the study found.

Georgieva underscored what she called her "relentless" commitment to addressing gender inequality and using the fund's budgeting instruments and other tools to help countries reduce barriers to women in the paid labour force.

"There is no way for any society to prosper without tapping into the talent of all its people – men and women. It's very simple, if you ignore part of your capabilities, you ... come up short in terms of economic achievements," she said.


(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)