At the world’s current rate of change, we are 108 years away from closing the overall gender gap and 202 years away from gender parity in the workplace, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2018.
Stagnation in the proportion of women in the workplace and women’s declining representation in politics, coupled with greater inequality in access to health and education, offset improvements in wage equality and the number of women in professional positions, leaving the global gender gap only slightly reduced in 2018.
Overall, the world has closed 68 percent of its gender gap across four key pillars: economic opportunity, political empowerment, educational attainment and health and survival. Of the four pillars measured, only one — economic opportunity — narrowed its gender gap. This is largely due to a narrower income gap between men and women, which stands at nearly 51 percent in 2018, and the number of women in leadership roles, which stands at 34 percent globally.
Women in the workforce
However, in the same economic pillar, data suggests that proportionately fewer women than men are participating in the workforce. There are a number of potential reasons for this, says the Forum.
One is that automation is having a disproportionate impact on roles traditionally performed by women. At the same time, women are underrepresented in growing areas of employment that require science, technology, engineering and mathematics skills and knowledge.
Another potential reason is that the infrastructure needed to help women enter or re-enter the workforce — such as childcare and eldercare — is underdeveloped, and unpaid work remains primarily the responsibility of women. Consequently, the investments made by many economies to close the education gap are failing to generate optimal growth.
“The economies that will succeed in the Fourth Industrial Revolution will be those that are best able to harness all their available talent. Proactive measures that support gender parity and social inclusion and address historical imbalances are therefore essential for the health of the global economy as well as for the good of society as a whole,” said Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum.
“Industries must proactively hardwire gender parity in the future of work through effective training, reskilling and upskilling interventions and tangible job transition pathways, which will be key to narrowing these emerging gender gaps and reversing the trends we are seeing today,” said Saadia Zahidi, head of the Centre for the New Economy and Society and member of the Forum’s managing board. “It’s in their long-term interest because diverse businesses perform better.”
The other three pillars — education, health and politics — saw their gender gaps widen in 2018. In terms of political empowerment, the year-on-year deterioration can be partly attributed to the lower tenure of women in head-of-state roles around the world. The study also suggests that a regional divergence is taking place, with 22 Western economies witnessing an improvement in political empowerment for women as opposed to a decline in the rest of the world.
The U.S. dropped two places on this year’s Global Gender Gap Index, down to 51st place. It has closed 72 percent of its overall gender gap. For comparison, Iceland, which holds first place for the 10th consecutive year, has closed 85.8 percent of its gender gap. The U.S made modest improvements in economic opportunity and participation this year, offset by a decrease in gender parity among government leaders.
But there is some good news. With an average remaining gender gap of 27.5 percent, North America is one of the regions that has made the most progress overall. Canada (16th place, closing 77.1 percent of the gender gap) maintains its top spot in the region as well as its position in the global top 20, with modest improvements across a range of gender parity indicators this year.