Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

How to close the gender gap? Here are 3 ways to do it within this decade

How can we speed up progress to closing gender gap?

How can we speed up progress to closing gender gap?

Saadia Zahidi
Managing Director, World Economic Forum
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Education, Gender and Work

At the present rate of progress, it could take us nearly 100 years to close gender gap.

Since 2006, the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index has been measuring differences between men and women in four key areas: economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment. The 2020 index shows that, despite some progress, we are still a dispiriting 99.5 years away from a gender-equal world.

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Why is this? And more importantly, how can we turn the 2020s into a decade of parity? What would it take to dramatically disrupt past trends and build on recent success stories to create a new momentum towards parity?

Three ways for closing the gender gap

Here are three ways to make the next decade the one when we finally achieve gender parity.

1. Business leadership on gender parity is better for workers – and leads to better outcomes for the bottom line.

On average, only 55% of adult women are in the labour market, versus 78% of men. And women only earn 60% of what men do for the same work, with half as much non-wage income.

Business leadership on closing gender gaps in employment and value chains is therefore critical – and expected in an era of stakeholder capitalism and the values of a new generation. This is important not just for building inclusive workplaces that appeal to the workers – and families – of today, but it also makes business sense. The most diverse companies are also those with better long-term performance. This is not surprising: diverse teams integrate a broader set of information on risk, reward and values when they make decisions and consistently outperform homogenous teams. These trends are likely to be magnified in the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the changing business landscape.

Gender gap in business: With more women on boards quotas or policies are designed to support parity
Gender gap in business: With more women on boards quotas or policies are designed to support parity Image: World Economic Forum

2. Both policy incentives and political role models are necessary for "hurrying history."

Today, 25% of the 35,127 global parliamentary seats are occupied by women and 21% of the 3,343 ministers globally are women. In addition, over the past 50 years, 68 of the 153 countries covered by the latest report have had a female head of state. The latest – Finland – has elected the world’s youngest prime minister.

As more women reach visible positions of power, it creates a virtuous cycle, normalizing the association of women and leadership for future generations. The role-model effect in closing the gender gap is already visible: countries with higher levels of women in political power also tend to have higher levels of women in business leadership.

Gender gap in politics: 25% of parliamentary seats worldwide are occupied by women
Gender gap in politics: 25% of parliamentary seats worldwide are occupied by women Image: World Economic Forum

There is also a growing role for policymaking and incentives when it comes to embedding parity. These can range from quotas and targets to wage equality legislation to parental leave policy to building a care economy infrastructure – but it has become clear policy incentives are among the most important tools available to address the gender pay gap. The successful examples of France and the UK when it comes to reporting and disclosure, or from Iceland's gender pay parity, show policy can be an effective tool for accelerating the pace of change with relatively few trade-offs.

3. We have a unique window to embed gender parity into the future of work. Based on data from LinkedIn, we found that women are under-represented in six of the eight fastest-growing professions of the future: while women make us the majority in growing roles like people and culture, they form only 26% among those with data and AI, 15% among those with engineering skills and 12% among those with cloud computing skills. This could lead to a higher gender gap in the future. But with the enormous demand for talent in these roles, we have a unique window today to focus on education, reskilling and upskilling to get more women trained for these fast-growing roles and at the same time addressing the biases that prevent women from the right skillsets from being hired, promoted and retained. In particular, when it comes to Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) professions, role models and the inclusiveness of workplaces matter. Additionally, the new wave of HR technologies offers an opportunity to fix the biases of the past and embed greater gender equality as well as other forms of diversity.

We need to look ahead to the jobs of the future to check gender gaps from the beginning
We need to look ahead to the jobs of the future to check gender gaps from the beginning

Walking the talk at the World Economic Forum

None of this is possible without leadership from business and government. At the World Economic Forum, in addition to providing comprehensive data and a “yardstick” for measuring gender gaps, we are committed to three areas of action in 2020 and beyond:

  • We provide a platform for countries that want to be leaders in accelerating the pace of change. Currently, we're working with nine economies to create Closing the Gender Gap Accelerators, which focus on bringing more women into the labour force, closing wage gaps, bringing more women into leadership roles and equipping them with future-ready skills. By the end of 2020 we expect to have Accelerators in 15 economies and set up a learning network across them to codify and exchange best practices.
  • We are working with leading companies to identify their five fastest-growing or most strategic roles of the future, and to commit to parity in recruitment and reward within those roles by 2022. While this isn’t a holistic solution – and companies must do much more to get to parity – it is important to take a pre-emptive approach to closing future gender gaps instead of corrective measures once new gaps have emerged.
  • Our Annual Meeting in Davos is one of the most visible gatherings of global leaders around the world. At the Annual Meeting 2020, our 50th meeting, we are committed to doubling women’s participation – at a minimum – by 2030. We will do this in part through internal measures to improve representation within various stakeholder groups. For the most part, however, we will work with the represented businesses and governments to improve the gender gap in leadership.
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What's the World Economic Forum doing about the gender gap?

These actions are not silver bullets. However, they are critical for accelerating progress to closing the gender gap. Without the equal inclusion of half of the world’s talent, we will not be able to deliver on the promise of the Fourth Industrial Revolution for all of society, grow our economies for greater shared prosperity or achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

At the dawn of the 2020s, building fairer and more inclusive economies must be the goal of global, national and industry leaders. Present and future generations expect nothing less.

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