The World Economic Forum has released its ‘Global Gender Gap Report 2021’, and the results, which include data from 156 countries, reveal how COVID-19 has impacted women’s economic wellbeing.
This is the 15th edition of the report, which benchmarks the evolution of gender-based gaps and tracks countries’ progress towards closing them.
The details were released via a virtual briefing moderated by WEF’s Managing Director, Adrian Monck, and featured the participation of three speakers; Saadia Zahidi, Managing Director, World Economic Forum, Natalie Lacey, CRO at market research firm IPSOS, and Sue Duke, Head of Global Public Policy, LinkedIn.
The report looked at countries “regardless of the resources available” and focused on gender participation, which meant that “both rich and poor countries had a chance to make it to the top of the rankings.”
According to the report, “the gender gap in Economic Participation and Opportunity has seen marginal improvement since the 2020 edition of the report,” where it will take another “267.6 years to close.”
In terms of gender pay parity, the impact of COVID-19 means it will take another generation to close the gap, which has increased from 99.5 years to 135.6 years.
WEF representatives said that developing countries that invest in female economic participation could grow faster and become more competitive on the world stage.
WEF also said that disbelief in the gender pay gap was holding some countries back from equal female participation: “We still have a sizable minority and many countries who actually do not even believe that this is a real problem; that it’s either a false creation or that it’s something that doesn’t exist in their market.”
Rankings by country
Iceland is ranked number one in the report for the 12th year in a row. The speakers said the Nordic economies’ consistently high rankings were down to their “care infrastructure”, including policies that support working parents and reskilling opportunities available to both men and women.
A new entry to the index and at the bottom of the rankings is Afghanistan, as it’s the first year that enough data had been compiled about the country’s labour force and women’s position in it.
There has been some improvement with gender equity in the United States, which has jumped a few places to 30. This rise has been attributed to the new political administration.
The United Kingdom is in 23rd place, and Switzerland made it to tenth place in the top ten. China “is in the top half of the G 20” and is “ahead of all other emerging markets in the G 20.”
The United Arab Emirates has made history by breaking into “the top half of the rankings”, being “the first Arab country in the world to do so.” The UAE’s upward trajectory is believed to be due to its substantial investment in women’s higher education, combined with a concerted effort to integrate them into the labour economy.
Namibia and Rwanda are in the top 10 due to the “fairly equitable distribution across the labour force combined with fairly high levels of political representation at the ministerial and parliamentary level.” The sub-Saharan region does well in terms of equal labour participation despite its lower education and healthcare provisions.
The pandemic and women – the speakers reflect
The WEF found that COVID-19 has heavily influenced the report’s findings this year, where the pandemic has seen the resurgence of more ‘traditional gendered behaviours’ in the home.
“This creates a double shift for women that are working, especially when a billion schoolchildren were out of school at some point across various countries in the world, which created that additional care responsibility,” said Zahidi.
Research from IPSOS found that “women are losing jobs at a higher rate than men,” and with women being a minority population within the labour force, Lacey thinks “we are starting to see a rollback in women’s participation” as a result.
“A second aspect is the sectors that have been the most impacted by the lockdowns across the world tend to be sectors that are also large employers of women, like the retail sector,” she continued.
With the pandemic still ongoing, Zahidi said the full impact of this period on women’s economic participation cannot yet be known. With possible further lockdowns to come, it could decline further.
Duke said that LinkedIn’s research found a decline in the hiring of women in leadership roles globally, where COVID-19 has “effectively wiped out one to two years of progress across multiple industries.”
She notes that a “severe gender gap” is opening up in fast-growing industries, including “disruptive technology roles.” Within this sector, female representation hasn’t improved much since 2018, she added.
While the pandemic has accelerated the rise of digital transformation, she also said that women’s perspectives and contributions were missing from these formative developments.
The big problems and recommendations
While progress has been made to close the gap on female education and attaining qualifications, there hasn’t been much progress on gender pay equality and professional opportunities.
While the education gap is closing for women, there is still a gap between what men and women are training for, where fewer women go into STEM-related fields at university.
However, the speakers agreed that recruiters should pursue skills-based and transferable skills-based hires, which could open up talent pools to more diverse candidates, especially in tech.
The speakers agreed that more value needs to be placed on different types of work, including essential service roles that continued to operate during the pandemic such as supermarket retail workers and health-care professionals where women are heavily represented, and where skills and wage levels need improving.
Duke added: “When we see men and women with equal levels of skills, men are transitioning into those high growth roles and making that jump from a lower skill space into cloud computing, into AI, while women at the same level with the same skills type are not making those transitions, we need to figure out how to maximise women’s potential.”
The speakers agreed that businesses and governments need to put in place “short-term” DEI policies like “prioritising the reopening of schools, putting in place flexible working options for women, and equalising care leave for both genders.” Longer-term, they agreed that “skills-based hiring, skills-based development, and skills-based leadership” were essential ways to further female inclusion in the labour market.
Zahidi added: “There is a correlation between companies that perform well on ESG indicators and their broader performance. There’s also a correlation between a country’s competitiveness and how gender equal they are.
“When it comes to companies, if they want the kind of creativity, innovation, and dynamism that will be necessary during this crisis, they will need all hands on deck.
“They will need the latest ideas; they will need diversity to make that work, whether it’s a shift towards the greener economy or new products and services, particularly things that are more relevant to people in the post-pandemic economy. If there are too many job losses for women, you can see over time that aggregate demand will go down and countries will have a harder time recovering.”
To read the report in full, please click here.