• COVID-19 has caused the gender gap to widen dramatically.
  • But if countries take four ‘big bets’ there is a way to start closing the gap again.
  • We need all nations to take action now.
  • Unless they do, it will take over 135 years to achieve gender equality.

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a terrible toll on progress towards gender equality. Many of the gains of recent years have been reversed. The length of time until women and men are truly equal has increased from 99.5 years to 135.6 years in the space of just twelve months.

That’s the conclusion of the World Economic Forum’s 2021 Global Gender Gap Report, published just a year after COVID-19 was officially declared a pandemic.

And it’s in employment that some of the worst impacts on equality have occurred since the last annual report.

5% of employed women worldwide have lost their jobs due to the pandemic, compared to 3.9% of men, according to the report. This situation has been exacerbated by the fact that women are more likely to be employed in jobs at risk of automation, which has accelerated in the last year.

Global Gender Gap Report 2021 hiring women coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic
In April and May 2020, the share of women being hired into all roles dropped by 2.3 percentage points for entry-level workers, 0.9 percentage points for experienced workers and 0.5 percentage points for those in leadership positions.
Image: World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report 2021

And it’s not just at the lower levels that inequality has grown. Fewer women are being hired into senior jobs, the report says. The destruction of jobs in the consumer sector, where women tend to be over-represented, has also played a large part in widening career inequality.

The pandemic has highlighted the critical role women play in keeping society together. Many have found themselves doing “double-shifts” of paid and unpaid work resulting from school closures and reduced access to health and care services.

But, although the picture painted by the report is depressing, there are things governments can do to close the gender gap faster and get the world back on track to real equality. Here are the four ‘big bets’ the report highlights.

1. Hardwire gender parity into the post-COVID-19 world of work by reskilling women to be ready for re-employment in high-growth sectors. Gender-sensitive workforce planning and redeployment policies and strategies are the key to winning this ‘bet’.

2. Close gender gaps in remuneration between and within sectors by reviewing pay levels and putting in place policies that close pay gaps. This also means improving the quality of work and pay levels in in currently low-paid essential work

3. Enable women's participation in the labour force through flexible work arrangements that support diverse workforces. Social safety nets, specifically in the provision of childcare support, should be enhanced.

4. Advance more women into management and leadership by setting targets for the number of women in leadership in both government and business

“Gender-sensitive recovery strategies will be critical in making up ground lost during 2020,” the report says. This includes action to address women’s unpaid work burden and media campaigns to help shift mindsets and gender stereotypes in the role men play in care work.

“Leaders have a remarkable opportunity to build more resilient and gender-equal economies by creating more equitable care systems and, by encouraging women to transition into new roles based on their potential, gender parity can become embedded into the future of work,” it adds.

“Focusing on these ‘big bets’ by the public and private sector can serve to close gender gaps more strategically,” the report concludes.