U.S. Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said on Friday that barriers and challenges for women in the workplace, if not addressed, will hamper U.S. economic growth.
Better paid leave and improving access to affordable and good-quality childcare would make it easier for women - and men - to combine family and career goals, Yellen said in a speech on "125 years of women's participation in the economy" at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island.
If obstacles facing women remain "we will squander the potential of many of our citizens and incur a substantial loss to the productive capacity of our economy at a time when the aging of the population and weak productivity growth are already weighing on economic growth," Yellen said.
The Fed chief did not address monetary policy in her remarks. The Fed held rates steady at its latest meeting this week but appeared bullish on the prospects of two more rate increases in 2017.
A recent study estimated that increasing the female participation rate in the economy to that of men would raise U.S. gross domestic product by 5 percent, Yellen noted.
By 2010, the United States fell to 17th out of 22 advanced economies in terms of female labor force participation.
She also said that sectors in which long workweeks are the norm can be difficult for women once they have children, given the greater share of childcare women contribute.
But advances in technology and greater work-sharing and flexibility in scheduling should be able to help tackle this.
"Economic models also suggest that while it can be difficult for any one employer to move to a model with shorter hours, if many firms were to change their model, they and their workers could all be better off," Yellen said.