Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

Economic shocks are wiping out progress on gender equality: Global Gender Gap Report 2023

The Forum's latest Global Gender Gap Report 2023 shows gender equality is stalling and a marked drop in the numbers of women in positions of leadership.

The Forum's latest Global Gender Gap Report 2023 shows gender equality is stalling and a marked drop in the numbers of women in positions of leadership. Image: Getty Images

Sue Duke
Head, Global Public Policy and Economic Graph Team, LinkedIn
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  • LinkedIn data in new Global Gender Gap Report 2023 shows hiring rate of women in leadership roles has stalled as world faces continued upheaval.
  • Proportion of roles held by women falls dramatically from entry-level (almost 50%) to C-suite (25%), and in STEM roles drops all the way to 12%.
  • Progress made in recent years is actually being reversed across sectors.

The world is currently experiencing a period of economic volatility, and today’s Global Gender Gap Report 2023 from the Word Economic Forum shows that – yet again – women are bearing the brunt of labour-market shocks.

In its annual Global Gender Gap Report, the Forum uses LinkedIn data to spot trends for women in the workforce. This year, that data suggests things are getting worse, not better, for women’s careers. This is particularly true of leadership roles and positions in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).

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Post-COVID fewer women hired into leadership

The COVID-19 pandemic upended many people’s lives and prompted a seismic reassessment of our relationship with work. And yet, when it comes to women in the workplace, it’s clear some crucial lessons have still not been learned.

LinkedIn data in today’s report shows that the rate at which women are being hired into senior leadership roles has fallen to 2021 levels globally, including in major economies like the UK, US, Brazil and India. The actual proportion of leadership roles held by women has dropped too, to 32% – the same level as at the height of the pandemic in 2020.

Proportion of women in leadership hires, seasonally adjusted, 2016-2023
Proportion of women in leadership hires, seasonally adjusted, 2016-2023 Image: LinkedIn Economic Graph

This slowdown is the second time we’ve seen this phenomenon in recent years. Every year since 2016, the global workforce has seen a 1% increase in the hiring rate of women into leadership positions – progress at least, though achingly slow. Then, the onset of the pandemic started to weigh heavy on women climbing the career ladder. Today, it’s clear that not only has the representation of senior women lost momentum, it’s actually started to decline.

Across sectors, there’s been a substantial drop from the projected hiring rate pre-2022 and the actual hiring rate in the first quarter of 2023. This has been starkest in the Technology, Media and Information sector and Professional Services sector, both of which have experienced a slump of 4 percentage points.

A ‘drop to the top’ across sectors

This slowdown in the hiring rate of women into leadership positions is making a bad situation worse. Women account for almost half (49.7%) of workers on LinkedIn, but their representation decreases exponentially as they move up the chain of command.

Drop to the top, by industry, as of March 2023. gender gap report 2023
Drop to the top, by industry, as of March 2023 Image: LinkedIn Economic Graph

This ‘drop to the top’ is taking place across every single industry, but it’s starker in some than others. There is no sector in which the majority of leadership roles are held by women, even those where women make up most of the total workforce. In Education, for example, women make up 60% of entry-level roles but only 39% of top positions. The same goes for Consumer Services, where the proportion of roles held by women drops from 57% to 38% as we jump from entry-level to C-suite.

Rising interest in STEM but roles have low retention

Across industries, nearly half (46%) of entry-level positions are held by women, but this almost halves to one in four (25%) at the C-suite level. Then, when we look at the C-suite roles in STEM industries in isolation, it halves again to one in eight (12%).

In fact, women are being excluded from STEM workplaces even earlier than this. It is rightly celebrated that more women than ever are graduating with STEM degrees, but LinkedIn data shows the sharpest drop-off in female representation happens between graduation and entering the workforce (a decrease of 7 percentage points).

We know that STEM roles are some of the fastest growing and most in-demand, making them more likely to be future-proofed against economic turmoil that is yet to come. Today’s report finds that having more women in stable and growing roles might actually make economic shocks less likely.

Share of women in the workforce, by seniority level and STEM occupation status
Share of women in the workforce, by seniority level and STEM occupation status Image: LinkedIn Economic Graph

Fairer recruitment, more inclusive workplaces

Economic uncertainty and external shocks are not going away, but the good news is that there are a number of practical steps that companies can take to help close the gender gap and make workplaces more equitable.

When it comes to hiring, we know that a skills-first approach helps ensure recruitment is more inclusive, by valuing skills and not just traditional credentials such as job titles and qualifications. According to LinkedIn’s data, women were almost twice as likely (1.8x) as men to apply for a job posting when they were shown how their skills overlapped with the job requirements, with a similar positive impact on hiring outcomes.

Inclusive hiring practices can play a big role in helping to level the playing field. From thinking carefully about language in job descriptions and making sure it’s gender neutral, to putting in place a hiring panel and candidate shortlists that are balanced, there are a number of ways to make the process more equitable and fair.

The data shows that there is a ‘drop to the top’ in women progressing through to leadership, and so upskilling and creating career growth opportunities for women in early management roles is a key part of making sure women have equal opportunities to advance their careers. Providing training about unconscious bias for hiring managers and interviewers can also be helpful here.

Finally, we know that women often disproportionately bear the double responsibility of work and caring responsibilities, and thinking about how you can offer flexibility to all workers, is a core part of making workplaces more equal.

At the moment, the data doesn’t paint a positive picture. But with concrete, practical action we have the opportunity to change the numbers.

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