Gender Inequality

7 of the most surprising facts about global gender gaps

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The road to gender equality is still a long one. Image: Unsplash/Munro Studio

Kate Whiting
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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Gender Inequality

  • The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap 2021 finds COVID-19 has slowed progress towards gender parity.
  • Political Empowerment is the area with the widest gender gap.
  • More women than men have lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic.
  • Tech needs progress with women making up just 14% of the cloud computing workforce.
  • The Forum says economic recovery plans offer an opportunity for policy-makers to redress imbalances.

Progress towards reaching gender parity has stopped - and in some cases reversed - due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2021.

“The health emergency and the related economic downturn have impacted women more severely than men, partially re-opening gaps that had already been closed,” says the 15th edition of the report, which comes out a year after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic.

The report measures four gaps in 156 countries: Political Empowerment; Economic Participation and Opportunity; Health and Survival and Educational Attainment.

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Women have been disproportionately affected, the report shows, as lockdowns shuttered sectors including hospitality, in which they are more often employed, and they took on more unpaid work, like childcare and homeschooling.

This opened up a new frontier for equality that policy-makers can help address as part of the global recovery plan, says Klaus Schwab, the Forum’s Founder and Executive Chairman.

“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,” he says. “Gender parity can become embedded into the future of work.”

Here are seven of the most surprising facts in the latest Global Gender Gap Report.

We’re only 68% of the way to gender parity globally

a chart showing the state of gender gaps, by subindex
Work still needs to be done to close the gender gap. Image: World Economic Forum Global Gender Report, 2021

This is a step back of 0.5 percentage points compared to 2020. The report says that on the current trajectory, it will take another 135.6 years to close the gap worldwide - up from 99.5 years in 2020.

98 countries made improvements in political participation

There are now more women in parliament in more countries, and Belgium and Togo elected their first female prime minister in the past 12 months. But Political Empowerment is still the widest gender gap - and it grew in 2020. Only 22% is now closed, 2.4 percentage points lower than last year.

It will take more than 250 years to reach economic parity

a graph showing the evolution of the Global Gender Gap Index and subindexes overt time
There is much work to be done before economic parity is reached. Image: World Economic Forum Global Gender Report, 2021

Another 267.6 years to be precise. The report says just 58% of the Economic Participation and Opportunity gap has been closed so far, and there’s been just “marginal improvement” since the 2020 edition of the report.

30 countries have reached parity for educational attainment

Along with Health and Survival, this is the index where most progress has been made. Thirty countries have already closed the Educational Attainment gap, with 95% closed globally. On its current trajectory, the Forum estimates it will take another 14.2 years to close the gap. In Health and Survival, 96% of this gender gap has been closed.


41% of professionals in senior positions are women

Just 22 countries have closed at least 80% of the gap in managerial roles - and in another 20 countries, gender gaps in managerial positions are still as large as 80% of more. The “glass ceiling” persists in some of the most advanced economies, including in the US, the UK, Italy and the Netherlands.

a graph showing the change of hiring, 2019-2020, by gender, industry and seniority
Most advanced economies still have a Image: World Economic Forum Global Gender Report, 2021

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

5% of employed women lost their jobs in the pandemic

This compares to 3.9% of men, according to early projections from the International Labour Organization, which has looked at the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on gender gaps in economic participation.

Women make up just 14% of the cloud computing workforce

a graph showing female representation in emerging job clusters
This evidence shows that women are under-represented in emerging job clusters. Image: World Economic Forum Global Gender Report, 2021

Gender gaps in emerging technology professions persist. The Forum collaborated with the LinkedIn Economic Graph Team to look at eight fast-growing job clusters. Only two of these tracked at gender parity, while gender gaps are more likely in fields that require disruptive technical skills. The share of women in Cloud Computing, for example, is 14.2%.

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Related topics:
Gender InequalityFuture of WorkFuture of WorkDiversity and Inclusion
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