Economist: Close gender gap to boost economy

Cayman Islands women are a significant under-used resource that could fuel further growth in the islands economy, according to the keynote speaker at the annual tourism conference last month.

Economist Marla Dukharan told delegates at the Westin resort that closing the gender gap could provide a genuine economic boost to the Cayman Islands, particularly in the tourism industry.

Though women in the Caribbean have surpassed men in benchmarks for health and education, she said they were still not participating in the economy to the same extent.

“We have a real problem in the Caribbean,” she said.

“We have closed the gender gap in education and health, but women are not paid as much and we don’t achieve the level of decision-making positions that men achieve. What we end up being is a huge under-utilized resource in this region. It is a resource I think we can’t afford to waste.”

In the Caribbean tourism sector, she said, only one in five tourism ministers are female, only 5 percent of firms have a female managing director and only 4 percent have majority female ownership.

The Cayman Islands has several women in high-profile roles, including Director of Tourism Rosa Harris and Dart Real Estate President Jackie Doak, and is considered to be ahead of its neighbors in the region in this regard. Ms. Dukharan said the island was the “gold standard” for the region, but more could be done to ensure greater involvement of women in the upper stratas of the workforce.

Citing the example of Iceland, which has a population of around 338,000, she said countries that had closed gaps in pay and opportunity for women had seen the pay-off in terms of economic results.

Iceland has mandated equal pay for men and women, among a number of policy initiatives, that have seen it ranked first for gender equality in the World Economic Forum’s annual gender gap report for the last seven years.

Ms. Dukharan said the country had a stellar tourism industry and a growing economy as a result. Asked by a member of the audience what Cayman could do to close the gender gap, she said providing affordable child care and flexible shifts were two strategies that had been successful elsewhere.

“The other thing that some countries have done is to mandate equal pay,” she said. “These policies are not without difficulty, controversy and cost; however, research has shown that when the state does put these policies in place, the economy grows.”

In a report earlier this year, management consultants McKinsey Global Institute estimated as much as $28 trillion could be added to globally GDP by 2025 if women participated in the workforce identically to men.

Ms. Dukharan said the Cayman Islands and other Caribbean nations should consider that carefully.

“If, from a policy perspective, you decide to close the gender gap, you will add 26 percent to your economy by 2025. That’s something to think about,” she said.

She said the available statistics for the Caribbean were not great but showed that in many cases the region lagged behind in terms of labor force participation rates for the Caribbean.

“Participation in the hotel and restaurant sector is higher than the total economy,” she said, but women are over-represented in clerical and cleaning roles and under-represented in higher paying jobs, like tour guides and chefs.

She added, “However, we are earning 60 to 70 cents for every dollar that men earn, we are less likely to have our own business, we have trouble growing and formalizing our own businesses, we have more difficulty accessing credit, we are over-represented in manual labor, we are less likely to be promoted to management and more likely to be working part time or flexible hours.”