“Diversity comes with a lot of responsibility,” says Saira Khan, Director HR at National Foods Limited (NFL) in Pakistan, “we need to create the right work environment and build harassment-free, family friendly workplaces in which women, especially young mothers, feel welcome and can thrive.”
National Foods Limited is one of a growing number of forward-looking Pakistani companies, who are starting to see and understand the business case for gender diversity in the workforce. In Pakistan, women make up just seven percent of the labor force, the third lowest in the world and yet, if women and men were to participate equally in the workforce, Pakistan’s GDP could increase by 30 percent.
This is a challenge common among many nations in the Asia Pacific region, where countries range from below average, to falling, to some of the lowest rates in the world when it comes to female labor force participation.
But what are the reasons behind these low rates? There is no one clear answer to this, the challenges are complex and vary from country to country. It is in the understanding and addressing of the challenges that IFC can add value.
By improving access to good jobs for women in emerging markets, IFC can help countries support a skilled workforce, drive gender diversity at all levels and increase labor force participation. This in turn helps increase overall business growth and strengthens economies.
It’s a point acknowledged by Fiji’s Minister for Employment, Productivity and Industrial Relations, Parveen Bala. “We need a better understanding the childcare needs of Fijian workers to help private and public sector develop solutions tailored to the local context,” he said. “This will ensure that more women get in, and stay in, the workforce. This will also help ensure Fijian businesses and the public sector are as productive as possible.”
With support from the Australian Government, IFC recently undertook a report, Tackling Childcare: The Business Case for Employer Supported Childcare in Fiji, that explored the demand for childcare for working parents in that country. It found that each year, the public and public sectors in the country are losing an average of 12.7 workdays for each employee because of childcare responsibilities. And as a result of IFC’s work, the Fijian Government announced it was setting up a taskforce on early childhood care and education to prioritize the government’s response to the growing demand for childcare services.
From Fiji to Sri Lanka and beyond, IFC is tackling childcare in eight countries across Asia and the Pacific. The move follows IFC’s release of its first report on Tackling Childcare: the business case for employer supported childcare in 2017. IFC’s work globally on employer-supported childcare and other mechanisms of support for working parents has shown that childcare can be a win-win solution for employees, business and economies. IFC now has studies also underway in Bangladesh, Vietnam, Myanmar and Cambodia – a country where IFC is also working closely with the World Bank to develop community-based childcare for garment sector workers. The garment industry accounts for 80 percent of the country’s export earnings.
Following the release of the 2017 report, IFC launched a global tackling childcare advisory program. “The programme works with a growing number of forward-looking companies that believe that childcare and family-friendly workplaces are good for employees and the business, and helps them operationalize the findings of the report,” says Rudaba Zehra Nasir, IFC’s Global Lead for Tackling Childcare and Women’s Employment.
"Almost one in 10 of the world’s population, 679 million, are children younger than five years old."
Today, in many parts of the world, working parents face several challenges in accessing decent childcare. It is particularly pronounced in developing countries. This lack of access not only affects early childhood development and a family’s ability to prosper; it also hurts businesses and economies that depend on acquiring and retaining a skilled workforce.
Inadequate childcare poses a key constraint on female labor force participation rates, when closing that gender gap in the workforce could be a key driver of economic prosperity. McKinsey Global Institute calculates that reaching gender parity could boost the collective GDP of the Asia Pacific region by $4.5 trillion annually by 2025.
Improving access to childcare and creating family-friendly workplaces goes hand-in-hand with fostering workplace gender diversity and helping parents enter and advance in the workforce while also enabling companies to strengthen their bottom line.
IFC’s report Tackling Childcare: The Business case for Employer-Supported Childcare in Sri Lanka illustrates that companies such as F. J. & G. de Saram, the oldest and one of the largest law firms in Sri Lanka, have realized the benefits. The company provides childcare as part of its recruitment and retention strategy, yielding a near 100 percent maternity return rate. The report prepared in collaboration with UNICEF Sri Lanka is IFC’s first country-specific report on the business case for employer-supported childcare. IFC’s work on gender in Sri Lanka is supported by the Australian Government.
In Pakistan, where women represent only seven percent of the formal labor force, IFC is partnering with the Pakistan Business Council and 14 companies to promote family-friendly practices and encourage more women to enter the workforce. The companies have pledged to make progress on family-friendly policies such as childcare, paternity leave, and breastfeeding.As we continue to work with companies and governments on this issue across the region, we’re also stressing the benefits of early childcare for a child’s development. IFC’s Global Tackling Childcare Working Group of more than 30 organizations and the Government of Paraguay, is developing a practical guide for employer-supported childcare to offer ideas, examples, and suggestions to employers considering good quality, affordable workplace childcare solutions.
Through global evidence and case studies from developed and developing countries, IFC has demonstrated the benefits that can accrue to businesses when they support the childcare needs of their workforce.
“The less worried the parents are about their childcare situation, the better work life balance they have and the more they are able to contribute at work.”
– Ravinesh Krishna, Fiji National Provident Fund
Having established a strong evidence case around the important role of childcare, IFC is now working across Asia Pacific to help businesses and governments understand how they too can unlock the potential of childcare.
Each country has its own set of challenges and there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution.
You can explore the latest from four of these countries below.
Join the #tacklingchildcare initiative today.