Participants from the private sector, government, academia, and international organizations are taking pictures at the ‘Third Policy Forum: Advancing Women’s Economic Empowerment through Gender Pay Equality.’ Photo: UN Women/Honey Kim
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Seoul, Republic of Korea — On November 24th, the UN Women Centre of Excellence for Gender Equality in Seoul hosted a policy forum to explore strategies for private sector, governments, and international organizations to address and narrow the gender pay gap. The issue has recently garnered attention as the research focus of Claudia Goldin, this year's Nobel laureate in economics.
The "Third Policy Forum: Advancing Women’s Economic Empowerment through Gender Pay Equality" convened over 60 participants, including experts from the International Labour Organization (ILO), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and UN Women, along with diplomats and academic figures. The forum kicked-off with an overview of the current status of the gender pay gap, delving into measurement methods, and exploring initiatives by businesses, governments, and international organizations to effectively address this disparity.
The gender pay gap is recognized as a significant impediment to the economic empowerment of women. According to OECD, the gender pay gap stands at 11.9 per cent among OECD member countries. Notably, among OECD member countries, South Korea exhibits the largest gap at 31.1 per cent.
Hyunsook Kim, Minister of Gender Equality and Family of the Republic of Korea, emphasized: "The gender pay gap stems from various factors such as career interruptions due to childbirth, a rigid corporate culture hindering work-life balance, and women's overrepresentation in non-regular, low-paying jobs. To address this, the government will enhance public-private partnerships to actively support companies in their voluntary efforts for change."
Jeongshim Lee, Director of the UN Women Centre of Excellence for Gender Equality, is opening the ‘Third Policy Forum: Advancing Women’s Economic Empowerment through Gender Pay Equality.’ Photo: UN Women/Honey Kim
Keynote speaker Professor Yoosik Youm, from Yonsei University, stated: "As the discourse on gender inequality persists in Korean society, there is a shortfall in research that dedicates adequate time and resources to gather empirical data and conduct methodologically rigorous analyses.”
Throughout the discussions, experts underscored the crucial role played not only by international organizations and governments but also by private companies. The Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs), a global initiative involving nearly 8,000 companies worldwide, was presented as a comprehensive methodology for addressing gender gaps in the private sector. Launched jointly by UN Women and the UN Global Compact in 2010, the WEPs outline seven strategies for companies to promote gender equality in the workplace, market, and community.
Anna Falth, Head of Women's Empowerment Principles Secretariat, stated: "The gender pay gap is a visible illustration of structural gender inequalities in our society. It has short-, medium- and long-term negative impacts on the wellbeing of women and their families.”
The forum also introduced the Equal Pay International Coalition (EPIC), launched jointly by ILO, OECD, and UN Women in 2017. The Coalition provides legal and institutional support to businesses and governments for addressing gender pay gaps. Moreover, it advocates for evidence-based policymaking to address and close gender pay gaps through collaborative efforts at the local, national, and international levels.
"Pay transparency is a simple yet powerful tool in resolving the gender pay gap,” said Valerie Frey, a senior economist at OECD, highlighting that 21 out of 38 OECD countries have requested companies to report gender pay gaps. “This approach can raise awareness of the presence, causes, and consequences of the gender pay gap, encouraging employers to address inequalities in their organizations,” she added.
The forum also discussed the disclosure of gender pay gaps in connection with Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) indicators, which has gained prominence due to recent government legislation and global investment trends. Professor Hye-Jin Kim from Sejong University stated, "ESG management can contribute to reducing the pay gap and increasing female representation by demanding the disclosure of information on gender pay gaps and female participation within organizations."
Jeongshim Lee, director of the UN Women Centre of Excellence for Gender Equality, indicated "Since the announcement of the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2023, the issue of the pay gap between men and women has gained global attention. The gender pay gap is a challenge rooted in structural gender discrimination, and addressing it goes beyond simply increasing women's participation in the labor market and raising education levels."