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SEOUL: Boosting women’s participation in the workforce and giving them more leadership opportunities would boost the economic potential of South Korea and the United States, US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told a group of women entrepreneurs in Seoul.

Women represented a “huge untapped resource” for both the United States and South Korea, Yellen, the first woman to head the US Treasury, told the women in remarks prepared for delivery during a lunch at a vegan restaurant in Seoul.

The comments come as the Biden administration is fighting to salvage key parts of its domestic agenda, including a funding boost for child care and universal preschool aimed at increasing the participation of women in the workforce.

Biden had hoped to pass major legislation that would have included such funding along with projects to combat climate change and raise taxes on big corporations, but the work has been stymied by the opposition of Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, whose vote is critical in the evenly split Senate.

She noted that South Korean women were among the most educated in the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development countries but held just 20% of management roles in South Korea.

OECD data shows that women are more likely to be irregular workers, and earn 31% less than men on average, the highest gap in the OECD.

Yellen says US wants to end dependence on China for rare earths

The International Monetary Fund estimates that closing the gender gap in labour force participation could boost South Korea’s real gross domestic product by 2035 by more than 7%.

“Women should be given the ability to stay in the workforce,” Yellen said, adding that women still faced challenges in rising to the top, both in public service and the private sector, even in advanced economies such as the United States.

The women reflected on the particular challenges of moving ahead in the tech sector, and trying to advance careers while also having a family, a Treasury official said.

Yellen shared her own experiences advancing in the still male-dominated profession of economics, the official added.

She will meet with South Korean women economists later in the day. “We cannot leave the tremendous talent and education of our young women on the table,” she said, adding that including more women in the workforce could address labour supply shortages that were driving prices higher.

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