• The Global Gender Gap Report 2021 highlights the disproportionate hit the pandemic has had on working women.
  • Diversity, equity and inclusion need to be key pillars of plans for recovery.
  • We need to look beyond formal qualifications and assess, recruit and develop talent based on skills and potential if we’re to achieve a more inclusive workforce and society.

LinkedIn’s latest insights published in the Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report make for difficult reading.

Not only does the report paint a worrying picture of the state of gender equality today and the disproportionate hit the pandemic has had on working women, but all the indicators show that we are storing up trouble for ourselves in the future. While we have a long way to go on gender equality, this year’s report shows that we can make progress if we learn the lessons from the pandemic and focus our actions, starting today.

Strides toward equality risk becoming undone

We know that COVID-19 has taken a harder toll on women’s careers. That’s partly due to the occupational segregation of the labour market; women work more in industries that have been hardest hit by restrictions, such as the hospitality and travel sectors.

But it’s also because we saw a large reversion to traditional gender roles as working-from-home became widespread. The reality is that school and childcare closures saw women take more responsibility for childminding and supervision of remote learning. That stepping up at home often came at the cost of stepping back at work. LinkedIn data shows that female hiring rates fell significantly during the initial stage of the pandemic - one indicator of how women’s careers were held back.

HIring rates by seniority
Image: LinkedIn

Our data also revealed a marked decline in women being hired into leadership roles since the outbreak of COVID-19 last year. This has effectively undone 1-2 years of progress across multiple industries, in sectors like Professional Services, Retail, Education, and Recreation and Travel. It is particularly worrying that senior women have lost their seat at the table, particularly when we know the influence and impact this has on driving long-term progress on gender equality.

What we do today shapes our future

What’s even more concerning from this year’s report is the severe gender gap that we see in roles that are growing the fastest, and how little progress has been made in these roles over the last few years.

Image: World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report 2021

For example, the current share of women in Cloud Computing roles is 14.2% - up a scant 0.2 percentage points since 2018 - which is barely a blip in terms of momentum. Not only do we need to ensure women are getting equal access to the jobs of tomorrow, but these roles - Cloud Computing, Engineering, Data, AI - are precisely the roles that will play a significant role in shaping all aspects of technology and how it is deployed in the world.

One of the clear consequences of the pandemic is the rapid acceleration in digitization and the integration of technology into all aspects of our lives. We need women’s voices and perspectives represented at this foundational, formative stage, and playing an equal role in determining what technologies are developed, how they’re deployed and the impact they have.

Forging a fairer future

Without intervention today, it is going to be even more difficult to address gender inequality as we emerge from the pandemic. Companies and governments must ensure that diversity, equity and inclusion are key pillars of their plans for recovery. This means encouraging a fairer distribution of care-giving responsibilities and addressing the double burden that many working women face; developing programmes to fast-track gender diversity across leadership roles; and tackling the root causes of the issue by changing the way we source and develop talent in organizations.

Image: World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report 2021

We also need to recognize the specific challenges around gender disparity in fast-growing, future-facing roles. Core to this is breaking down the barriers to these professions, and that includes making these areas of work more attractive for women. There is also a real opportunity to help women reskill for these roles and pivot into these sectors mid-career.

Skills-based hiring is going to be crucial in making this happen; we need to look beyond formal qualifications and assess, recruit and develop talent based on skills and potential if we’re to achieve a more inclusive workforce and society.

What's the World Economic Forum doing about the gender gap?

The World Economic Forum has been measuring gender gaps since 2006 in the annual Global Gender Gap Report.

The Global Gender Gap Report tracks progress towards closing gender gaps on a national level. To turn these insights into concrete action and national progress, we have developed the Closing the Gender Gap Accelerators model for public private collaboration.

These accelerators have been convened in ten countries across three regions. Accelerators are established in Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, and Panama in partnership with the InterAmerican Development Bank in Latin America and the Caribbean, Egypt and Jordan in the Middle East and North Africa, and Kazakhstan in Central Asia.

All Country Accelerators, along with Knowledge Partner countries demonstrating global leadership in closing gender gaps, are part of a wider ecosystem, the Global Learning Network, that facilitates exchange of insights and experiences through the Forum’s platform.

In 2019 Egypt became the first country in the Middle East and Africa to launch a Closing the Gender Gap Accelerator. While more women than men are now enrolled in university, women represent only a little over a third of professional and technical workers in Egypt. Women who are in the workforce are also less likely to be paid the same as their male colleagues for equivalent work or to reach senior management roles.

In these countries CEOs and ministers are working together in a three-year time frame on policies that help to further close the economic gender gaps in their countries. This includes extended parental leave, subsidized childcare and removing unconscious bias in recruitment, retention and promotion practices.

If you are a business in one of the Closing the Gender Gap Accelerator countries you can join the local membership base.

If you are a business or government in a country where we currently do not have a Closing the Gender Gap Accelerator you can reach out to us to explore opportunities for setting one up.

Learning lessons from the pandemic

The findings of the Global Gender Gap Report have important lessons for how we rebuild our economies in the wake of the pandemic. While the pandemic has brought immense challenges, it has created huge upheaval and change, and we need to seize this moment. It is within our power to change the numbers. Let’s make sure that when we review next year’s Global Gender Gap Report, we will be able to point to the actions we took and the difference it made.