The time it will take to close the gender gap narrowed to 99.5 years in 2019. While an improvement on 2018 – when the gap was calculated to take 108 years to close – it still means parity between men and women across health, education, work and politics will take more than a lifetime to achieve. This is the finding of the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2020.
According to the report, this year’s improvement can largely be ascribed to a significant increase in the number of women in politics. The political gender gap will take 95 years to close, compared to 107 years last year. Worldwide in 2019, women now hold 25.2% of parliamentary lower-house seats and 21.2% of ministerial positions, compared to 24.1% and 19% respectively last year.
Politics, however, remains the area where least progress has been made to date. With Educational Attainment and Health and Survival much closer to parity on 96.1% and 95.7% respectively, the other major battlefield is economic participation. Here, the gap widened in 2019 to 57.8% closed from 58.1% closed in 2018. Looking simply at the progress that has been made since 2006 when the World Economic Forum first began measuring the gender gap, this economic gender gap will take 257 years to close, compared to 202 years last year.
Economic Gap Widening
The report attributes the economic gender gap to a number of factors. These include stubbornly low levels of women in managerial or leadership positions, wage stagnation, labour force participation and income. Women have been hit by a triple whammy: first, they are more highly represented in many of the roles that have been hit hardest by automation, for example, retail and white-collar clerical roles.
Second, not enough women are entering those professions – often but not exclusively technology-driven – where wage growth has been the most pronounced. As a result, women in work too often find themselves in middle-low wage categories that have been stagnant since the financial crisis 10 years ago.
Third, perennial factors such as lack of care infrastructure and lack of access to capital strongly limit women’s workforce opportunities. Women spend at least twice as much time on care and voluntary work in every country where data is available, and lack of access to capital prevents women from pursuing entrepreneurial activity, another key driver of income.
“Supporting gender parity is critical to ensuring strong, cohesive and resilient societies around the world. For business, too, diversity will be an essential element to demonstrate that stakeholder capitalism is the guiding principle. This is why the World Economic Forum is working with business and government stakeholders to accelerate efforts to close the gender gap,” said Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum.
Could the “Role Model Effect” close the gender gap?
One positive development is the possibility that a “role model effect” may be starting to have an impact in terms of leadership and possibly also wages. For example, in eight of the top 10 countries this year, high political empowerment corresponds with high numbers of women in senior roles. Comparing changes in political empowerment from 2006 to 2019 shows that improvements in political representation occurred simultaneously with improvements in women in senior roles in the labour market.
While this is a correlation, not a causation, in OECD countries, where women have been in leadership roles for relatively longer and social norms started to change earlier, role model effects could contribute to shaping labour market outcomes.
Gender Inequality in the Jobs of the Future
Possibly the greatest challenge preventing the economic gender gap from closing is women’s under-representation in emerging roles. New analysis conducted in partnership with LinkedIn shows that women are, on average, heavily under-represented in most emerging professions. This gap is most pronounced across our “cloud computing” job cluster where only 12% of all professionals are women. The situation is hardly better in “engineering” (15%) and “Data and AI” (26%), however women do outnumber men in two fast-growing job clusters, “content production” and “people and culture”.
According to our data, this reality presents leaders intent on addressing the gender gap in the future with two key challenges. The first and most obvious challenge is that more must be done to equip women with the skills to perform the most in-demand jobs. Indeed, there is an economic cost of not doing so as skills shortages in these professions hold back economic growth.
The second is possibly more complex. According to our data, even where women have the relevant in-demand skillset they are not always equally represented. In data science, for example, 31% of those with the relevant skillset are women even though only 25% of roles are held by women. Likewise, there is no gender gap in terms of skills when it comes to digital specialists, however only 41% of these jobs are performed by women.
These facts point to three key strategies that must be followed to hardwire gender equality into future workforces: to ensure women are equipped in the first place – either through skilling or reskilling – with disruptive technical skills; to follow-up by enhancing diverse hiring; and to create inclusive work cultures.
“Insights from LinkedIn’s Economic Graph can help policymakers, business leaders, and educators understand and prepare for how women will be represented in the future workforce. Our data shows that meaningful action is needed to build the systems and talent pipelines required to close the gender gap in tech and ensure women have an equal role in building the future,” said Allen Blue, Co-Founder and Vice-President, Product Strategy, LinkedIn.
What the Forum is Doing to Close the Gender Gap
The World Economic Forum’s Platform for Shaping the Future of the New Economy and Society aims to close economic gender gaps through both in-country and global industry work. Through Closing the Gender Gap Accelerators, the Forum drives change by setting up action coalitions between relevant ministries and the largest employers in the country to increase female labour force participation, the number of women in leadership positions, closing wage gaps and preparing women for jobs of the future. Additionally, the global business commitment on Hardwiring Gender Parity in the Future of Work mobilizes businesses to commit to hiring 50% women for their five highest growth roles between now and 2022. Finally, the Forum has committed to at least double the current percentage of women participants at the Annual Meeting in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland, by 2030.
“To get to parity in the next decade instead of the next two centuries, we will need to mobilize resources, focus leadership attention and commit to targets across the public and private sectors. Business-as-usual will not close the gender gap – we must take action to achieve the virtuous cycle that parity creates in economies and societies,” said Saadia Zahidi, Head of the Centre for the New Economy and Society and Member of the Managing Board, World Economic Forum.
Learn More: World Economic Forum