Foreign Minister Julie Bishop says getting more women into the workforce should be a key focus of the G20.

Getting more women into the global workforce is not only the right thing, but the smart thing to do, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop says.

The issue should be a key focus of the Group of 20 industrialised nations, Ms Bishop told a meeting of civil society groups ahead of November’s G20 summit in Brisbane.

In her keynote speech, she said the capacity of millions of women around the world was being seriously under-utilised in contributing to national and global economic growth.

Ms Bishop said changes in policies and attitudes were needed to turn this around, such as having more family-friendly workplaces, tax concessions for businesses that help women return to work, support for part-time employment, better parental leave, and changes in laws and attitudes to sexual harassment and domestic violence.

“We know that gender equality and women’s economic engagement helps drive growth and development,” she told a C20 summit in Melbourne on Friday.

“Investing in women is not just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do.”

Civil society groups at the summit have called on G20 members to include climate change on its agenda in November.

But Ms Bishop said the best forum to tackle it was the UN framework convention on climate change rather than the G20, which had a more economic focus.

She said the G20 could not be “all things to all people” but it should focus on eliminating subsidies such as fossil fuel subsidies, which would cut global greenhouse gas emissions by at least 10 per cent by 2050.

Ms Bishop said aid could not be seen in isolation to economic drivers and that development effort needed to be about an environment in which the private sector could thrive.

“Australia’s aid program will now respond to this reality,” she said, with the government’s aid for trade investments to be increased to 20 per cent of its aid budget by 2020.

“Economic growth is the most powerful weapon against poverty.”

Ms Bishop said the G20 was focused on reforming the financial sector and urged the US Congress to end its resistance to changes flagged for the International Monetary Fund.

International tax laws also needed reform because they were not keeping up with changes in the global business environment, she said.

Ms Bishop called for gaps allowing some multinational companies to artificially cut their tax bills to be closed.

The summit, attended by 350 delegates, will come up with recommendations to present to Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Sunday.

The C20 is the first of the lead-in G20 satellite conferences to take place before the G20, comprising 19 countries and the European Union, meets in Brisbane in November.