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International Equal Pay Day: These 4 charts show women’s economic participation has regressed

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International Equal Pay Day: Women’s economic opportunities remain as a concern. Image: Unsplash/CoWomen

Gabi Thesing
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Education, Gender and Work

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  • International Equal Pay Day builds on the UN's commitment to discrimination against women and girls around equal pay for work of equal value.
  • The 2023 World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap report showed that women’s economic participation had regressed, rather than recovered since the pandemic.
  • It will take 131 years to reach full parity.
  • A growing number of actors have recognized the importance and urgency of taking action.

“Women’s economic participation has regressed rather than recovered” since the pandemic, is how Saadia Zahidi Managing Director at the World Economic Forum summed up the findings of the 2023 Global Gender Gap Report.

"Achieving equal pay is an important milestone for human rights and gender equality. It takes the effort of the entire world community and more work remains to be done", according to the UN.

International Equal Pay Day represents longstanding efforts towards the achievement of equal pay for work of equal value and falling during the UN General Assembly week in New York, the day is a reminder that "Mainstreaming of a gender perspective is crucial in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development."

The Forum's Global Gender Gap Index provides vital benchmarks for measuring progress on the goals of achieving "decent work and economic growth by seeking full and productive employment... for all women and men".

The data measures the current state and evolution of gender parity across four key pillars: Economic Participation and Opportunity, Educational Attainment, Health and Survival and Political Empowerment. It was launched in 2006, making it the longest-standing index tracking the progress of numerous countries’ efforts towards closing the gender gap.

Progress since then has been slow and, at the current rate, it will take 131 years to reach full parity. The global gender gap score in 2023 for all 146 countries surveyed is 68.4% closed – a 0.3-point improvement on last year.

Women’s economic opportunities remain a particular concern. Women’s participation in the labour market has slipped in recent years, and other markers of progress maintain big gaps between women and men.

“Recent years have seen major setbacks and the state of gender parity still varies widely by company, industry and economy. Yet, a growing number of actors have recognized the importance and urgency of taking action, and evidence on effective gender parity initiatives is solidifying,’’ the report says.

Here are 4 charts from the report that show the parity gap at work.


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

Labour force participation remains well below 2009 peak

Figure showing the gender gap in labour-force participation, 2006-2023.
Parity is at its second lowest point since the index began. Image: World Economic Forum

Post-pandemic, women have been returning to the labour market at a slightly higher rate than men, nudging up the participation rate to 64% from a low of 63% last year. That said, parity is still at the second-lowest point since the first edition of the index in 2006 and significantly below its 2009 peak of 69%.

And women continue to face higher unemployment rates than men. The global unemployment rate is currently at around 4.5% for women and 4.3% for men.

Very slow progress on women accessing senior leadership positions

Figure showing the share of women in senior leadership, by industry, 2016-2023.
In many industries, women are still experiencing barriers to senior positions. Image: World Economic Forum

Data from LinkedIn, covering 163 countries, shows that women account for 41.9% of the workforce in 2023, but the share of women in senior leadership positions – defined as Director, Vice-President, or C-Suite – is at 32.2% in 2023. Women’s representation drops to 25% in C-Suite roles on average. For the past eight years, the proportion of women hired into leadership positions has been steadily increasing by about 1%.

Where are the women in STEM?

Figure showing the share of women in STEM and non-STEM workforce, 2015-2023.
While more women are taking up STEM jobs, retention rates have significantly dropped. Image: World Economic Forum

Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) occupations are the jobs of the future, and will grow in significance and scope, the report predicts. Again, LinkedIn data shows that while women make up almost half (49.3%) of total employment across non-STEM occupations, they only account for 29.2% of all STEM workers. Even though the number of female STEM graduates taking up STEM jobs is increasing with every cohort, the retention rate, even one year after graduation, has seen a significant drop, the report says.

Women still lack access to skills for the future

Figure showing the share of companies which consider skills to be increasing or decreasing in importance, ordered by the net difference.
Still less than 50% parity in the top-10 skills set to grow. Image: World Economic Forum

A persistent digital divide means women don’t have the same access to online learning that would enable them to upskill and future-proof their working lives. The report says that even when they do use these platforms, there are gender gaps in skilling. For enrolment in skills such as technological literacy (43.7% parity) and AI and big data (33.7%), which are among the top-10 skills projected to grow, there is less than 50% parity and “progress has been sluggish”.

Achieving parity in earnings and senior roles is crucial to closing the gender gap overall, the report’s authors stress: “Increasing women’s economic participation and achieving gender parity in leadership, in both business and government, are two key levers for addressing broader gender gaps in households, societies and economies.”

And collaboration will be key, the Forum adds: “Collective, coordinated and bold action by private- and public-sector leaders will be instrumental in accelerating progress towards gender parity and igniting renewed growth and greater resilience.”

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