• Grant Wardell-Johnson, Partner |

The Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to be held in Sharm El Sheik (COP27) is a time for high focus – and very specifically how do we reduce carbon emissions – and a time for broader reflections on how we grow our productive capacity in a carbon constrained environment.

The broader question raises the question of what levers we have to improve our capacity and thereby our wellbeing. One answer to that question concerns the role of gender in our global society. It is part of the Social in ESG for businesses, and although it may be seen by some as a middle child, it is one with immense capacity for change.

One element of that change lies in the opportunity to lift the participation rates of females throughout the world so that they become closer to that of men. This would not only lead to more equitable social and work environments, where men and women could participate to a more equal extent in familial care, but could also lead to increased economic capacity and ultimately a higher GDP per capita.

This raises the question of what levers governments and businesses have in reducing gender bias in their expenditure and revenue systems and how that might sit with different gender expectations and uneven familial responsibility.

Explicit gender bias is becoming less common globally particularly in advanced countries but it is common for there to be implicit bias in the system. This raises questions of the interaction between the tax and transfer system, particularly in relation to childcare, and the opportunity for a primary carer / secondary earner to increase the hours of paid work in a week, it also raises the question of whether paid parental leave promotes or does not promote a more equal allocation of parental care responsibility. Has the impact of working from home changed this dynamic? What is the role of unpaid work and its secondary economic impacts?

There are other dynamics associated with the changing nature of work and specifically the move to agency work which may have a greater impact on women than on men, although this may depend on the industry.

Biases currently experienced, can have a lifetime economic impact to the extent that they impact for example, capacity for promotion and pension savings, but also personal impact, for example job satisfaction or time spent with children or elderly relatives.

Biases that are not explicit tend to be subtle and nuanced but can have significant impacts. Whilst they may occur in the administration of systems, they are more likely to be prevalent because women are in different positions to men particularly in relation to familial care, unpaid work, the gender pay gap, the asset-wealth gap or because of the progressiveness of a tax system.

This may seem problematic and disadvantageous, and in one sense, it clearly is. But in another sense, if we can pull the right levers as a society and thereby increase our productive capacity, we can improve our overall social welfare as a society as a whole – both men and women would be the beneficiaries of this. And importantly for the very significant discussions taking place on the Egyptian Red Sea, we can improve Global GDP in a resource-friendly manner.

Over the next few months, the KPMG Global Responsible Tax Project will be exploring some of these issues and levers through a series of roundtables in several different regions. Should you wish to express interest in being involved, please reach out.