Two centuries to close the economic gender gap

A woman and a men sit on a pile of coins. [Shutterstock]

Women will have to wait two centuries to have as many economic opportunities as their male colleagues, the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2020 published on Tuesday (17 December) warns.

It will take around 257 years to close the economic gender gap if the world continues at the current pace. This means the situation has significantly worsened since last year.

“To get to parity in the next decade instead of the next two centuries, we will need to mobilize resources, focus leadership attention and commit to targets across the public and private sectors,” said Saadia Zahidi, Head of the Centre for the New Economy and Society and Member of the Managing Board of the World Economic Forum.

“Business-as-usual will not close the gender gap,” she added.

The report attributes the pay gap to low participation in the labour market, wage stagnation and limited participation of women in managerial positions. At present, only 55% of women compared to 78% of men are engaged in the labour market.

In managerial positions, although the rate has improved, the glass ceiling is still there. Only 36% of senior private sector managers and public sector officials are women.

Furthermore, female workers are more affected by digitalization due to a higher skills gap and remain excluded from emerging professions. Just 12% of cloud computing professionals are women, in engineering data, 15%, in artificial intelligence, 26%.

The report identified as well that even when there is parity in an in-demand skill-set, women tend to be less represented, meaning men are usually hired over women for the same position.

A good example is data science where 31% of those with the relevant skill-set are women but only 25% of roles are held by female workers.

The study, therefore, pointed out to the need to work towards more inclusive labour cultures.

The report highlights that often professional segregation between men and women in different sectors contributes to lower innovation levels but also has a “compounding effect” on gender pay gaps.

“Pay differentials between men and women are a persistent form of gender inequality in the workplace,” the study points out. Not even the top-ranked countries in the index have achieved parity in wages.

Devoting more time than men to care responsibilities and the lack of access to capital that would allow them to initiate business activity also make it harder for women to achieve the same economic development as their male colleagues.

There is no single country where males spend as much time as females in unpaid care work.

Closing the gender digital gap, a priority for Commissioner Gabriel

Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society defended the need for a collective response to the digital gender gap on Tuesday (29 January), during a conference on gender equality organized by the Martens Center in Brussels.

An EU challenge

Europe is the best place to be born as a woman. Western countries have on average reduced the total gender gap – including education, health and political representation – by 76.7%, around 71.3% in Eastern Europe, although the number also includes Central Asian countries.

Five out of the ten best-ranked countries – the index analyses the situation in 149 nations – are in the EU, Finland, Sweden, Ireland, Spain and Germany. However, the best performer remains Iceland.

In spite of the progress, according to the Joint Employment Report presented by the European Commission on Tuesday (17 December), gender equality in employment and pay remain substantial.

The employment gender gap has been stable since 2013 and remains at 11.6%. While the situation has not worsened, there has been no improvement either and “large disparities across member states persist.”

In particular, the report points to the parenthood and caring responsibilities falling on women’s shoulders and to limited access to care services and monetary disincentives as drivers of lower employment rates for female workers.

The employment rate is even lower for women with children, contrary to what happens to men, as parenthood is a positive factor for them to access the labour market.

The pay gap has stagnated as well and continues to be around 16%. According to the Commission’s assessment, “pay gaps occur in spite of women having on average higher qualification levels than men.”

The lower employability rate and the wage gap results in a pension gap of 35.2%.

A lifetime to achieve parity

The World Economic Forum calculated that the gender gap has been reduced up to 68.6% on average, but that the worst-performing countries have only managed to close it by 40%.

This means it will take the world over 99 years to achieve gender equality at the current path, although the result is slightly better compared to last year, thanks to the improvement in the performance of women in politics in the past 12 months.

In spite of the recent positive developments, political representation remains an issue with women only representing 25% of the available positions, 21% at the ministerial level. In nine countries, there is no representation of women at ministerial level.

The study highlights the importance of having female role models in politics. “Improving political empowerment for women has, as a general rule, corresponded with increased numbers of women in senior roles in the labour market,” it states.

While the situation varies quite a lot across the different countries, it is on closing the educational attainment and the health gap where the world is closer to achieve the goal.

(Edited by Benjamin Fox)

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