Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

Progress on gender equality is slowing – this is how the world can get back on track

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Women have identified a clear problem at leadership level in all areas of both public life and industry, Image: Pixabay/QiMono

Gayle Markovitz
Acting Head, Written and Audio Content, World Economic Forum
Simon Torkington
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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Education, Gender and Work

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  • The global gender gap measured across 146 countries is 68.4% closed.
  • At the current pace, it will take 131 years to reach parity.
  • Women’s high educational attainment is not matched by job opportunities.
  • Governments and industry must ensure women attain leadership positions.
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The cost-of-living crisis and the long tail of the pandemic have set back progress on creating a more gender-equal world.

The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Equality Report 2023, reveals the overall global gender gap has been closed by 68.4% but it will take another 131 years to create full equality at the current rate of progress.

Figure showing the percentage of the gender gap closed to date, 2023.
The state of gender gaps in 2023. The overall global gender gap is 68.4% closed. Image: World Economic Forum

The report breaks down the gender gap into four key dimensions. It shows progress on women’s education and health but a large lag remains when it comes to economic participation and political empowerment.

In a recent Radio Davos podcast, Saadia Zahidi, Managing Director of the World Economic Forum, and Sue Duke, LinkedIn’s Vice President and Head of Public Policy, reflected on some of the key findings of this year’s report. Here are the highlights of the conversation.

Where is the gender gap closing fastest?

Europe continues to rank first when it comes to progress on gender equality, says Zahidi. “Iceland has maintained the top spot. It has now closed over 91% of its gender gap and is the only country above 90%. About a decade or so ago, it was the only country in the world that had closed more than 80% of the gender gap, so it's a country that's consistently outperforming itself and consequently outperforming the rest of the world.”

In addition to Iceland, many European nations are among the leaders on gender equality, followed by North America, Latin America and the Caribbean, says Zahidi.

Figure showing the evolution in scores, 2006–2023.
Regional progress on closing the global gender gap. Image: World Economic Forum

“When we look at the trends over time and who is likely to close the gender gap, the fastest on the trend line of the last 17 years is Latin America and the Caribbean. These economies are likely to reach parity first, given that they are the regions progressing the fastest at the moment.”


Progress in education is not translating into employment opportunities

A key focus of the Global Gender Gap Report 2023 is educational attainment, and this is one metric where the world is close to parity between men and women. This is a welcome outcome – but there needs to be a stronger link between education and employment opportunities, Zahidi explains.

Figure showing the regional gender gap performance, by subindex.
The gender gap on educational attainment has been closed by 95.2% Image: World Economic Forum

“I think overall the news is very positive. The educational attainment gap is already one of the smallest and is being closed relatively fast and, hopefully, in less than a couple of decades, we will see full parity on that front. In most parts of the world, there are, overall, larger numbers of women going to university than men. There's parity when it comes to primary education and parity when it comes to secondary education. Where there's still not parity is when it comes to providing the skills of the future and the courses available for online learning.”

According to Zahidi, the evidence is unequivocal, “women's unemployment rates are higher. Throughout the pandemic, there were greater losses when it came to women's labour force participation. The why behind this is quite complex. The industries that shed jobs during the pandemic and didn't fully recover tend to be the sectors that employ fairly large numbers of women”.

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Placing women in the jobs of the future

While industries that employ more women have seen stagnation in employment, the biggest growth in jobs will come in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, (STEM). Sue Duke, Vice President and Head of Social Policy at LinkedIn says it’s essential women are given adequate training and access to these roles.

“STEM roles are some of the fastest growing and most in-demand roles out there and that means these are most likely going to be the roles most resilient to these economic shocks we experience. If we can get women into leadership roles, specifically in those rapidly growing sectors, not only will women be more resistant to economic shocks, but as the Forum’s report shows, having women in secure, resilient, and future-proof roles means those shocks will be less likely to happen in the first place.”

Women leading change on gender equality

Looking beyond the STEM sector, Duke sees a crisis in female leadership across the spectrum of industry and in front-line politics. She is adamant women must be enabled to lead the change required to accelerate closing the gender gap.

“We have a very clear problem at leadership level in all areas of both public life and industry,” says Duke. “More broadly, the problem of female representation in political life is very well documented in today's Global Gender Gap Report 2023 and our own Linkedin data. Both show very clearly there is not a single industry where we have reached gender parity in leadership.”


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

To end the lack of female representation at the top level in business and politics, Duke wants to see governments and organizations actively working to level the playing field across the duration of a career.

“There are very practical solutions that governments and businesses can take to help women reach their full potential.” insists Duke. “First, we need to get more women hired into leadership roles. That fundamentally comes down to more inclusive hiring policies and removing any biases from job descriptions. Employers must have a balanced panel of candidates and a balanced panel of interviewers. There must also be a skills-first approach to hiring. That means you recruit for skills instead of relying on traditional credentials and signals like previous job titles or education. If we can adopt a skills-first approach to hiring we can help women overcome some of the legacy challenges that they face.”

A launchpad for accelerating equality

This year’s Global Gender Gap Report highlights the challenges that remain in putting women on an equal footing in the workplace and wider society. There are many complex challenges in different regions of the world, but for Duke, there’s an overriding solution that would quicken the closing of gender gaps.

“We need to change business,” she says, “ so that it works for women just as well as it works for men”.

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