The 15th edition of the Global Gender Gap Report has been released one year after COVID-19 was officially declared a pandemic. Its index continues to benchmark the evolution of gender-based gaps and tracks countries’ progress towards closing them over time.

The report finds progress has stalled and it will now take 135.6 years to close the gender gap worldwide. It also includes analysis of the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on gender gaps in economic participation.

Early projections from ILO suggest 5% of all employed women lost their jobs, compared with 3.9% of employed men. LinkedIn data further shows a marked decline of women’s hiring into leadership roles, creating a reversal of 1 to 2 years of progress across multiple industries.

Adrian Monck, Managing Director, World Economic Forum moderated the media briefing, with Saadia Zahidi, Managing Director, World Economic Forum; Natalie Lacey, Chief Operating Officer, Global Affairs, Ipsos and Sue Duke, Head of Global Public Policy, LinkedIn on the panel.

Here are some of the key quotes:

On the impact of COVID-19 and the recovery:

Zahidi: Women are losing jobs at a higher rate than men (5% vs 3.9%) and being hired back slower and that means we might not recover as fast. We need a gender-equal recovery.

Lacey: The gender gap does vary and is proportional in many ways to the extent of the pandemic. In the hardest hit markets, such as Brazil, Mexico, the impact on women is significantly higher - and there are implications on mental and physical health that will outlast the pandemic.

Duke: We’re not seeing women in leadership roles. The pandemic has called into question all aspects of how we live, it’s incumbent on [governments and companies] now to hardwire equity, diversity and sustainability into the recovery.

Zahidi: [For SMEs in developing countries] we have to change the possibility for women to open their own businesses and ensure a gender lens is being applied in the recovery. This is the responsibility of big financial institutions. There is a business case - the best ideas are not going to come from homogenous teams. If companies want a return on their investment, they have to start looking at gender-balanced teams.

On women in STEM careers:

Zahidi: We can look at broader statistics and imagine enough progress is being made on skills development and education, but that hides what women and men are training for. STEM fields are among the few fields where fewer women go in than men and in lifelong learning, the picture is murkier.

We need greater efforts from the IT industry, and all sectors need to value different kinds of work. The pandemic has shown women are workers at the frontlines, whether in grocery stores or healthcare. Traditional female-dominated industries need to think about improving skill levels and wages there.

Duke: When it comes to high-growth roles, like cloud computing and data, we’re not seeing the female representation we need to see to achieve gender equality. Those are the jobs of tomorrow and we need women in those roles. We are not making progress.

We need to improve educational attainment and how it’s showing up in the labour market. We hear 'it’s a supply shortage', that women don’t have the skills in those clusters, but we’re seeing full potential not being capitalized on. Men are making the jump from a lower skills base, but women at same level are not, so we need to help them pivot mid-career.

On closing the gender gap:

Lacey: There's still a perception of whether or not the gender pay gap is real. About 50% [of companies] around the world feel the gender pay gap is a real problem, but we still have a sizeable minority who believe it’s a false creation or doesn’t exist in their market...

There's a natural tendency for companies to say, 'It’s not happening here'. There remains an issue that this is not something that needs to be addressed. So [we need countries and companies to] acknowledge the point and recognize the change that needs to happen. It’s not just about flexible hours, it’s about support services and broader ways to allow women to fulfil their expectations and needs

Duke: We have to focus on skills, hiring, developing talent, moving people into leadership based on skills. We feel confident we can move past legacy issues...

We’re pulling data daily to really understand what’s going on out there, the issues are clearly documented here - it’s not a mystery. We need companies and governments to put in place flexibility, equity, open schools, [provide] care leave, skills-based leadership and development. If we can make the fundamental shift away from formal qualifications, to look to the future and untapped potential [of women], if we can zero in on skills and help them reskill and retrain, we can get women into those positions and that is going to be for the good of us all.

Zahidi: [Investment in the] care economy and care infrastructure, is the right investment for governments to make now as they think about the recovery. The care sector is a huge job creator. [We need a] strategic approach to ensuring not just a broader pipeline, but that companies put in practice hardwiring gender equality. There are still too many parts of world where the fundamentals like health and education still have massive gender gaps.