The positive role of women in improving public finance

8 Mar 19

Now is the time to improve women's standing in the world of public finance, say Gillian Fawcett and Barbara Grunewald. 


Today, as we celebrate International Women’s Day, it is important to remember that women can have a hugely positive role in improving public finances.

Where governments around the world spend a third of GDP on public services there is a great opportunity to strengthen the pipeline of women into public finance jobs and leadership positions so that the advancement of gender equality proceeds in line with social and economic development.  We know that gender equality in leadership is critical for strengthening a country’s competitiveness and economic development.

Yet despite women making up over half of the population they are still overlooked as a vital talent.

Whilst some progress has been made there is still a lot of work to do. There are too few women in leadership positions, public concern about the gender pay gap continues, and there is a mountain to climb to convince stakeholders that existing governments polices are not gender neutral.

Above all, we need to ‘engender’ public finance, where women play an important part in the public policy decision-making process.

To date, we know about the challenges facing women in finance more generally, but less so about the challenges in the specific field of public finance.

We also know the types of indicators of gender equality, but are less clear about the root causes of gender inequality. If we improved our understanding of the root causes this could improve the targeting of those causes and potentially lead to different solutions. There is a strong case for more thought leadership and research in this area.

'There are too few women in leadership positions, public concern about the gender pay gap continues, and there is a mountain to climb to convince stakeholders that existing governments polices are not gender neutral.'

Having observed all of these challenges throughout both our careers, we came together to find a way to make a contribution to improving women’s standing in the field of public finance. 

As a result, we propose the creation of an organisation that brings together women in public finance around the world.

Today, on Women’s International day, we launch a strategy for creating the first global network for women in public finance, ‘Public Finance by Women’ (PFW). Having worked for several months on a cohesive strategy, we sent the proposal out for consultation.

Following extensive feedback from 57 organisations and individuals from 19 countries and jurisdictions, the feedback was overwhelmingly positive, and it became clear that there is a distinctive need for such a network.

The strategy for PFW sets out the basis for a new organisation that will connect women working in public finance around the world offering mentoring, peer support and guidance, as well as developing thought leadership and research to support women at different stages of their careers. 

We envisage PFW to make a real impact in achieving a collaborative effort being made between all organisations involved in government finance, both in the public and private sectors. This will ensure that the right solutions are developed to address the tangible and intangible barriers that exist, whether these relate to the political system, perceptions or unconscious biases and whether they are based on cultural or social norms.

A global network of women in public finance is a positive step forward and has the potential to make a material contribution to the achievement of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the UN in 2015, in this case particularly goal number 5 ‘To achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls’.

It is definitely an exciting time for being a woman in public finance.

Once PFW is up and running, we will be looking forward to realising our vision of achieving gender equality and equal career opportunities for women working in public finance by fostering connections, opening up dialogue and promoting positive engagement.

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