Securing executive attention for new policy demands is notoriously difficult as governmental agendas are crowded by established or 'core' policy issues. This article investigates whether it is harder for new and costly policy issues to reach the government agenda when the economy is performing badly. It examines whether, and the extent to which, costly gender equality issues regarding women's access to the labour market, equal treatment at work and care activities, are more likely to achieve executive attention when the economy is performing well. Using the Comparative Policy Agendas database, a systematic, quantitative analysis is conducted of when and why policies promoting sex equality in the division of labour reach executive agendas. The findings confirm that advocacy for costly gender equality measures is easier to make in times of economic growth. It is also found that female representation in parliament strengthens advocacy for executive attention and reduces friction on policy agenda change. © 2014 Taylor & Francis.