Fairfax Media

By Kim Stephens

A G20 Brisbane target to close the gender gap in workplace participation risked trivialising non-paid employment, warned the president and chief executive of the public policy institute New America Foundation.

In a communique stemming from the G20 Brisbane meeting, world leaders set the goal to reduce the gap by 25 per cent by 2025, which would bring more than 100 million women into the labour force.

The issue was discussed at the International Dialogue on Women in Leadership — a two-day conference at the State Library of Queensland opened on Sunday by former Australian Governor General Quentin Bryce as G20 leaders started to jet off from Brisbane.

In a panel discussion on Monday centering on women in politics and government, New America Foundation president and chief executive Anne-Marie Slaughter said the participation target was ambitious but risked trivialising non-paid employment.

She said the target could not be met until there was a challenging of traditional gender roles.

"No male CEOs are also the primary care giver, every single one has a woman or man at home who is the lead parent," she said.

"Why would we expect anything different from women? I can't do what I do unless my husband fills the non-traditional male role.

"Unless we learn to value that role and say that work is just as important as that which brings in money we're not going to get the kind of change we want."

However, Indonesia's Hana Satriyo, the Asia Foundation's director for gender and women's participation, said the challenges for women wanting to enter the workforce in her country were very different to those in developed countries.

"We learn what happens in more developed countries, but for us, this is a first for everything," she said.

"I'm the first working mum in my family, there is no example from previous generation.

"Women, we need support from grassroots level.

"We don't have washing machines in our houses and our answer is to employ other women to do our work."

Australian Finance Department Secretary Jane Halton said long-time maternity leave policies meant the public service was well ahead of many other industries in female population but still there remained a long way to go.

"Closing the gender gap is an enormous challenge," she said.

"The Australian public service has a long way to go, there is just below 40 per cent of women in senior executive roles."

Professor Slaughter reiterated, however, that increased workforce participation by women should not come at the expense of non-paid work.

"I dont think we have been having this conversation," she said.

"I was raised to think what we are supposed to be doing is to be in the workforce and the activity that brings in income is much more important than nurture, health and education and all the things we need to do to invest in the race," she said.

"I don't think most of the people in that room believe the work our mothers did is as important as the work our fathers did.

"We have always been socialised that the traditional world of men is more important than the traditional world of women."

The forum continues on Monday.

This article was originally published in Fairfax Media