Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

Gender Gap: This is the state of work for women in 2024

Closing gender gaps in areas such as employment and entrepreneurship could increase global gross domestic product by 20%, the World Bank calculates.

Closing gender gaps in areas such as employment and entrepreneurship could increase global gross domestic product by 20%, the World Bank calculates. Image:  Unsplash/Christina @ wocintechchat.com

Rebecca Geldard
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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  • The advancement of women at work is good for everyone – potentially increasing global GDP by 20%, according to the World Bank.
  • The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2024 shows progress for women has slowed overall, but employment rates are up.
  • The Economic Participation and Opportunity gap has closed by 17 years since the last edition – here's what that means for women and work.

“Women have the power to turbocharge the sputtering global economy,” according to World Bank Chief Economist Indermit Gill.

But that will only happen if we can accelerate policy and other reforms needed to remove the many barriers to their progress, Gill said at the launch of the World Bank’s 'Women, Business, and the Law 2024' report earlier this year.

The advancement of women at work is good for everyone. Closing gender gaps in areas such as employment and entrepreneurship could increase global gross domestic product by 20%, the World Bank calculates.

And while there’s a way to go – at current rates, it could take five generations or 134 years to achieve gender parity worldwide, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2024 – there are signs of post-pandemic recovery in economies and labour markets.

Women's participation in the labour force across the 101 countries tracked by the report over the past 18 years has surged beyond 2023 levels – from 63.5% to 65.7%. The overall Economic Participation and Opportunity gap has closed by 17 years since last year’s edition, though it remains the second-largest gap to bridge and there are wide variations between countries. The lowest reported score on this subindex is 31.1% (Bangladesh), while the highest is 87.4% (Liberia).

So what does this mean for women – where are the biggest gaps and what must be done to close them?

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

Workforce representation and leadership

Global unemployment rates are back to pre-pandemic levels, but the International Labour Organization predicts they will increase this year given the signs of slowing productivity, growing inequalities between higher- and lower-income countries, and other factors.

Women make up 42% of the global workforce and 31.7% of senior leaders, lagging behind men in nearly every industry and economy, according to LinkedIn data cited in the Forum’s report. While women hold 50% of entry-level positions, they still lack access to the C-suite, with only 25% of top positions.

Global workforce representation of women, by seniority, as of April 2024
Women occupy nearly half of entry-level positions but just one-quarter of C-suite roles. Image: World Economic Forum/LinkedIn

“With the global labour market cooling down from the hiring frenzy of 2020 and 2021, it is female professionals who are losing out,” said Sue Duke, Head, Global Public Policy and Economic Graph Team, LinkedIn.

“This slowdown comes during a period of workforce transformation. Generative artificial intelligence (GenAI) is shaking up how we work, with three in four people in desk-based roles now using it in their jobs.”

But Duke believes the impact of new technologies could work in women’s favour. LinkedIn data found women had a 28% larger share than men of essential soft skills for jobs of the future, including strategic leadership and collaboration. Add to this the growing number of female AI talent and “the advent of GenAI presents an opportunity to help close the gender gap”, she said.

The proportion of women in leadership is something of a bellwether metric for parity in employment overall, the Global Gender Gap Report 2024 suggests, with LinkedIn data showing that in worsening macroeconomic conditions there are fewer female jobs at the top.

Industry-specific gender gaps

So how are women faring in specific sectors? The number of women in STEM jobs has been steadily growing since 2016, but they still only make up 28.2% of the workforce. The report notes the particularly steep “drop to the top” in this sector, with C-suite positions harder to access than in non-STEM occupations.

Women are making significant gains in AI talent, as technology becomes increasingly vital to business transformation. New LinkedIn data reveals that the concentration of female talent in AI engineering has more than doubled since 2016. Women remain underrepresented compared to men in the industry, but female participation in sectors like Technology, Information, and Media is on the rise. Gender parity in AI is also improving in the Education, Professional Services, Manufacturing and Technology sectors.

Skilling is vital to all, but the report notes “gender differences in skilling profiles … skewing how men and women are engaging in the technological transition and the possibilities they have in the future of work”.

Coursera data shows gender parity in online courses for collaboration, leadership, teaching, mentoring, empathy and social influence. However, it remains low in AI and big data (30%), programming (31%), and networks and cybersecurity (31%), hindering the closure of workforce gaps.

How we can achieve gender parity

The report acknowledges the geopolitical, macroeconomic and other challenges of recent times. Successive shocks, declining social and care infrastructure and persistent inequities have collectively slowed gender equality in recent years.

And only with gender parity can we achieve equitable and sustainable growth, the report’s authors say, representing a significant collaborative opportunity for governments and business to improve the lives of women and girls, the global economy and society.

The Forum’s Global Gender Parity Sprint 2030 is a six-year initiative to promote economic gender parity by reshaping labour markets, enhancing industry systems and integrating gender equality into global transformations in technology, climate and care.

It also highlights the role of measures such as quotas and professional networks in improving women’s access to the world of work. LinkedIn data shows men typically have larger and stronger networks, leading to better career opportunities, but women’s weaker ties were found to lead to better career outcomes.

Women’s workforce participation is further hindered by increased caregiving responsibilities, underscoring the need for equitable care systems and parental leave. World Bank research has found that an increase in paternal leave results in higher female labour-force participation.

While the speed of progress is “deeply insufficient to achieve gender equality by 2030”, it is achievable, the report says, if government and business “shift both resources and mindsets towards a new paradigm of economic thinking, where gender parity is embraced as a condition for equitable and sustainable growth”.

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