Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

15 strategies helping to close the gender gap around the world

Two women sat looking at a computer. It's important to close the gender gap.

The time it will take to close the gender gap grew by 36 years in just 12 months, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2021. Image: UNSPLASH/LinkedIn Sales Solutions

Kayleigh Bateman
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Education, Gender and Work

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  • Gender equality has suffered since the pandemic began.
  • It will now take an estimated 135.6 years to close the worldwide gender gap between men and women.
  • However, progress is being made in areas including science and politics.
  • Improving paternity policies and representation of women will help.

There is still a huge amount of work to do to achieve gender equality around the world.

The time it will take to close the gender gap grew by 36 years in just 12 months, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2021. This means it will now take an estimated 135.6 years for men and women to reach parity, according to the report, which assesses areas including economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and political empowerment.

Nevertheless, there are significant pockets of progress.

This selection of archive articles highlights how and where that progress has been made, and offers some strategies to help us keep addressing the imbalance.

A chart showing regions narrowing their gender gaps,
All regions have narrowed their gender gaps by at least 60% since 2006. Image: World Economic Forum

1. Understanding the problem

Recognizing a problem is often seen as an important part of solving it. These 2015-20 data visualizations from UN Women show how women are represented in different professions around the world.

2. Invest in policies to help women back into the workplace

Women have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic, with more leaving the workforce and taking on unpaid caregiving or domestic duties. Governments will need to invest in specific policies to change this, for example by improving care leave or providing more preschools.

3. More female role models

Diversity is good for business. More female role models and mentors can ensure greater representation, according to digital transparency firm Everledger.

4. Aim for the snowball effect

Companies with more women in leadership roles hire more women right across the board, according to data from LinkedIn. Being aware of unconscious bias and building strong internal pipelines for promotion will improve hiring rates for women in leadership positions.

5. Consider quotas

Rwanda has made significant progress in getting more women into politics. It boasts the highest share of women in parliament in the world, according to statistics from the Inter-Parliamentary Union. Quotas have been key to this, and are used in many electoral systems that have more women as legislators and MPs.

6. Design tools for “unbanked” women in developing countries

Without access to a formal bank account, women are often left without insurance, credit facilities or loans. New technology and products should be designed with these women in mind so that more low-income women are included in financial systems.

7. Review paternity leave policies

Some countries are taking great leaps on paternity leave. However, several wealthy nations are still failing to provide adequate government-supported leave, according to the United Nations Children's Fund, UNICEF.

8. Understand more about what motivates women

One explanation of the gender pay gap is that women tend to be less competitive than men in workplace settings. However, new research suggests that women are likely to be more competitive if they can share their winnings as they are often team players. More research in this field could help inform thinking about how best to close the gender pay gap.

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9. Recognize the value that women provide in supporting colleagues

Women’s extra efforts to support colleagues are being overlooked, according to McKinsey’s Women in the Workplace 2021 report. Women often intervene to manage the wellbeing or inclusion of fellow workers. But this work is rarely noticed or rewarded.

10. Don’t always play safe

The pandemic has caused companies to default to hiring male CEOs, according to global research. Firms have tended to opt for leaders with a proven track record, or experience as a CEO – a trend that favours men. Being mindful of this will help ensure the progress made pre-pandemic is not reversed.

11. Address the gender gap at all levels in scientific fields

Efforts need to be made at government, academic and corporate levels to address the gender imbalance in scientific fields, says UNESCO. One example of this is to check that AI systems are not biased against women candidates for technical roles. Some technology companies are already taking a lead in this area.

12. Tackling the patent gender gap

The share of female inventors named in Patent Cooperation Treaty applications filed in 2020 was just 16%, according to the World Intellectual Property Organization. Mentoring and advising less-experienced female inventors so they can identify patent-worthy ideas will help address the imbalance and propel more women into leadership positions.

13. The need for more legal rights for women

Women around the world only have three-quarters of the legal rights of men, on average, according to the World Bank. And fewer than half of the world’s countries have equal pay. A legal environment that encourages women’s economic inclusion will help make progress in many areas, including narrowing the gender pay gap.

14. Monitor violence against women

Violence against women and girls is “still so deeply embedded in cultures around the world that it is almost invisible”, according to a UN human rights expert. And the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2020 found that between a fifth and nearly half of women globally suffer physical or sexual abuse from their male partners. The UN expert is calling for countries to set up prevention bodies and to monitor the violence, rather than leaving this work to human rights or women’s groups.

15. Make diversity a priority for start-ups

Start-ups with a diverse workforce report almost 20% higher innovation revenues, or proceeds from recently launched products and services, according to the Boston Consulting Group. However, a separate report highlights that few start-ups are actively trying to increase diversity within their leadership teams.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

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