• COVID-19 is highlighting gender, racial and disability gaps.
  • As we rebuild economies and reopen businesses, we have an opportunity to hardwire diversity, equity and inclusion into tomorrow's workplaces.
  • World Economic Forum initiatives are working towards social progress.

With a disproportionate health and economic impact on people of colour, women, the poor and the LGBTQI+ community, COVID-19 is shining a light on systemic racism and social injustice.

But lockdowns didn’t create these problems. Even before the pandemic, gender, racial or disability gaps were persistent, especially when it comes to achieving decent work and economic opportunities.

In 2019, women held 28% of managerial positions and 24.9% of seats in national parliaments, according to the UN SDG Progress Report 2020 – an improvement, but far from gender balance. And with gender parity 99.5 years away, none of us will experience it in our lifetimes, says the World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Report 2020.

Workplace gender gaps
Workplace gender gaps become wider towards the top.
Image: World Economic Forum

Gender pay gaps are even wider for non-white women – just one of many examples of the impact of workplace racial biases, according to Adwoa Bagalini, the Forum’s Engagement, Diversity and Inclusion Lead.

Gender pay gap by race, relative to white men
Gender pay gap by race.
Image: PayScale

Likewise, people with disabilities “often experience unequal hiring and promotion standards, unequal pay for equal work and occupational segregation. Only 4% of businesses are focused on making offerings inclusive of disability,” according to the Forum's Closing the Disability Inclusion Gap project.

COVID-19 exacerbates these problems. For example, only 20% of Black workers in the United States have been able to work from home during the pandemic, compared to 30% of white workers and 37% of Asian workers, according to McKinsey. Black Americans are more likely to work in low-wage, “high-contact, essential services” roles, the report explains – which not only puts them at greater risk of infection but also perpetuates the racial wealth gap.

Inclusion isn’t just the right thing to do – it’s good for the economy and for business. Open For Business, a coalition of companies advancing LGBTQI+ equality, shows a strong positive correlation between a country’s acceptance of LGBTQI+ people and the resilience of its economy. And for businesses, a “disability-inclusive business strategy” leads to 28% higher revenue and 30% higher profit margins.

“While much of the Great Reset will be about environmental sustainability and the better use of technology, it is also about seeking greater fairness and less inequality,” said Forum Founder and Executive Chairman Klaus Schwab.

As we rebuild economies, reopen business and reconfigure our workplaces, we also have a chance to shift towards hardwiring greater diversity, equity and inclusion into these workplaces of the future, too.

How to reset workplaces with equity, inclusion and social justice in mind

Social justice initiatives can complement and even accelerate post-pandemic rebuilding.

In January 2020, the Forum launched Hardwiring Gender Parity into the Future of Work, an initiative aimed at accelerating the pathways for women to get the jobs of the future. By 2022, companies committed to:

  • Identifying five new or transformed job roles that significantly impact their organization.
  • Recruiting 50% female talent into these job roles.
  • Developing a strong gender-equal reward system which addresses bias and ensures equal pay and equal opportunity to all staff.

Founding member Ingka Group, the parent company of IKEA, took the pledge further by committing to “achieving equal pay for work of equal value by the end of 2021, as well as reaching 50/50% gender balance in every unit, level, board and committee.”

Share of male and female workers across professional clusters
Gender gap across professional clusters.
Image: World Economic Forum

In May 2020, the killing of George Floyd inspired companies around the world to support the Black Lives Matter movement and take action to end systemic racism. In addition to supporting current employees and speaking out against injustice, companies can seize this moment to address disparities in talent sourcing and selection, improve benchmarking and cultivate a culture of inclusivity, as a recent Forum toolkit explains.

Impact of diversity on team performance
Diversity is good for business.
Image: World Economic Forum/Korn Ferry Institute

As one example, IBM unveiled a new quantum education and research initiative for historically Black colleges and universities that includes a $100 million investment. The company’s current CEO, Arvind Krishna, is co-chair of an effort announced this summer to hire 100,000 New Yorkers who are from low-income minority neighborhoods by 2030.

Efforts such as these will not only improve diversity and inclusion but will also help the company survive the economic crisis by bringing in new talent for the jobs of tomorrow while also boosting the local economy – a win for everyone involved.

Civil Society

What is the World Economic Forum doing to close the disability inclusion gap?

The power of business and leadership

The World Economic Forum Platform for Shaping the Future of the New Economy and Society aims to close the disability inclusion gap by driving business action, capturing and disseminating learnings, and leveraging leadership for scale. It serves as an accelerator for the Valuable 500, a global initiative putting disability on the business leadership agenda.

The value of 1.3 billion people

1.3 billion people across the world live with some form of disability – representing 17% of the global population, this is the largest minority group worldwide. Yet, only 4% of businesses are focused on making offerings inclusive of disability. As a result, people with disabilities are often disregarded as customers, deprived access to employment and the current global employment rate for disabled people is half that of non-disabled people. In the workplace, people with disabilities often experience unequal hiring and promotion standards, unequal pay for equal work and occupational segregation.

Beyond the moral imperative, there is a strong business case for disability inclusion. The cost of exclusion of people with disabilities represents up to 7% of GDP in some countries. With 28% higher revenue, double net income, 30% higher profit margins, and strong next generation talent acquisition and retention, a disability-inclusive business strategy promises a significant return on investment.

A new standard for workplace equality

The Valuable 500 is the global collective of companies committed to disability inclusion. It aims to engage 500 private sector corporations to be the tipping point for change and to unlock the business, social and economic value of the 1.3 billion people living with disabilities across the world. The Valuable 500 work together to:

  • Provide peer support to executive business leaders to increase their confidence and competence in disability inclusion
  • Operationalize disability inclusion across the value chain by providing insights, analysis and tools for companies to advance their disability inclusion efforts
  • Share best practices and benchmarks to assist companies in meeting their commitments and responsibilities to disability inclusion.

The initiative was launched at the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting in Davos in 2019 and has more than 360 companies committed to date.

What the World Economic Forum and its partners are doing

  • Diversity, Equity & Inclusion 4.0 is a toolkit for leaders to accelerate social progress in the future of work, with practical tips on how to improve talent sourcing and selection, organizational analysis and monitoring, and employee experience, reward and development.
  • The Forum’s Closing the Gender Gap Accelerators are public-private platforms to develop national-level action plans and share knowledge and tools to increase workforce opportunities and work towards gender parity. The goal is to have accelerators in 15 countries by the end of 2020. In Latin America and the Caribbean, accelerators have been convened in Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Panama and Peru in partnership with the InterAmerican Development Bank.
  • Supported by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in collaboration with the Forum, the Partnership for Global LGBTI Equality (PGLE) is a coalition of organizations committed to accelerating LGBTQI+ equality and inclusion in the workplace and in communities.
  • Closing the Disability Inclusion Gap is a Forum initiative to accelerate the Valuable 500, which aims to engage 500 national and multinational private sector corporations to put disability inclusion on the agenda.