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  • International Workplace
  • 8 January 2020
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World faces 100-year wait for gender parity

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, 2019’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.

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, the report finds, is the possibility that a “role model effect” may be starting to have an impact in terms of leadership and possibly 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.

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, the report finds. New analysis conducted in partnership with LinkedIn shows that women are, on average, heavily under-represented in most emerging professions.

According to World Economic Federation 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.