Every year, the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report examines national gender gaps as they stand today, and projects recent trends into the future to map the likely distance to gender parity. Using 13 years of data for 106 economies, we find that few countries are on track for parity within our lifetimes, but we also find some unexpected leaders and laggards, depending on their current starting point and recent rate of change.

Only 15 countries will close their gender gap within the next half-century. For example, if progress continues at the current pace, France, currently ranked 12th among 149 economies, is expected to close its overall gender gap in 22 years. Iceland, the current world leader, is expected to close the gap in 23 years.

Regional time estimates for achieving higher gender parity, against world average
Regional time estimates for achieving higher gender parity, against world average

Another 35 countries are likely to close their gender gaps in between 50 to 100 years. With the global life expectancy currently at 72 years, a child born today will narrowly witness gender parity within their lifetimes in these economies. For example, Canada will likely close its gender gap in 51 years, while Switzerland is likely to take 54 years. At the lower end of this group, Saudi Arabia would take 76 years while the UAE may take another 86, despite their recent respective rankings of 141st and 121st among 149 economies in 2018. On the other hand, the UK, currently ranked 15th globally, will take 74 years to gender parity when applying the slow pace of change over the last 13 years.

For more than half of the economies covered, change will take a century or longer. At current trends, the US will take 208 years to close its gender gap. That’s roughly three lifetimes. In Iran and Pakistan, it may take upward of five centuries given current rates of change.

The future of gender parity

The past need not determine the future. First, women – and men – around the world are increasingly aware of the front lines of gender parity. They want to see a brighter, more gender-equal future for their children. Second, the closing of gender gaps is becoming a science, with ever-increasing evidence on what works and what doesn’t.

At the World Economic Forum, we help develop and apply new approaches to change, bringing together large coalitions of governments, businesses, civil society, and experts to show that transformation is possible and to showcase lessons as widely as possible. In addition to annual research that provides a yardstick for the world on where countries and industries stand on attaining higher gender parity, we serve as a platform for two approaches to change.

1. National public-private collaboration on closing economic gender gaps

Between 2012 and 2016, the World Economic Forum piloted a new approach to national-level public-private collaboration across four economies: Japan, Republic of Korea, Mexico and Turkey. Drawing on the learnings from these pilots, the Centre for the New Economy and Society has developed the Closing the Gender Gap Accelerators model for public-private collaboration. Accelerators have been created in eight economies: Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, France, Panama and Peru (in partnership with the InterAmerican Development Bank).

The country accelerators work with a multistakeholder community to increase women’s participation in the labour force; close gender gaps in remuneration; advance more women into management and leadership roles; and embed parity into in-demand skills and education. Together, they form a growing global network of economies accelerating gender parity, with 15 economies expected to join by 2020.

2. Business leadership on embedding gender parity goals into the future of work

According to The Future of Jobs Report, 73% of companies are set to adopt machine learning into their business models, and 85% are set to adopt big data analytics in the period up to 2022. Yet the new professions at the forefront of those technologies are set to be unequal from the start. As detailed in The Global Gender Gap Report 2018, women form only 23% of current artificial intelligence (AI) talent, and gender gaps across all industries are three times wider among AI professionals. Left unchecked, such trends will widen rather than narrow today’s gender gaps.

Most AI industries have a low Gender Parity Index ratio
Most AI industries have a low Gender Parity Index ratio

The World Economic Forum’s pledge for Hardwiring Gender Parity in the Future of Work invites a broad coalition of global companies to identify five roles that are strategic or high-growth and to commit to gender parity in recruitment and reward across such positions by 2022. To complement these efforts, a new toolkit on gender parity 4.0 will outline the next-generation technologies that can address gender bias in the workplace.

Gender parity cannot remain an aspirational ideal. Instead, it must become a reality within our lifetimes, creating better outcomes for companies, families, communities, and economies. No single organization or country can achieve this aim in isolation. We need to act together for impact, incorporating the best learnings from around the world. The time to act is now.