108 Years: Wait for Gender Equality Gets Longer as Women’s Share of Workforce, Politics Drops

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  • Despite the global gender gap narrowing slightly in 2018, proportionately fewer women than men are participating in the labour force or in political life
  • Overall, the economic gender gap narrowed in 2018; however, access to health and education, and political empowerment suffered reversals
  • Iceland remains the world’s most gender-equal country. At the current rate of change, the global gender gap will take 108 years to close; economic gender parity remains 202 years off

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Geneva, Switzerland,18 December 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. This is according to the Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2018,published today. 

According to the report, the world has closed 68% of its gender gap, as measured across four key pillars: economic opportunity; political empowerment;educational attainment; and health and survival. While only a marginal improvement on 2017, the move is nonetheless welcome as 2017 was the first year since the report was first published in 2006 that the gap between men and women widened.

At the current rate of change, the data suggest that it will take 108 years to close the overall gender gap and 202 years to bring about parity in the workplace.

Within the global headline figures, it is possible to perceive a number of trends that are defining the gender gap in 2018. 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% in 2018, and the number of women in leadership roles, which stands at 34%globally.

However, in the same economic pillar, data suggest that proportionately fewer women than men are participating in the workforce. There are a number of potential reasons for this. One is that automation is having a disproportionate impact on roles traditionally performed by women. At the same time, women are under-represented in growing areas of employment that require STEM (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 under-developed and unpaid work remains primarily the responsibility of women. The corollary is that the substantial investments made by many economies to close the education gap are failing to generate optimal returns in the form of growth.

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. However, data also suggest that a regional divergence is taking place, with 22 Western economies witnessing an improvement in political empowerment for women as opposed to a widening in the rest of the world. When it comes to women in parliament, these Western economies – which collectively have closed 41% of the gap – saw progress reverse in 2018.

“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.

From STEM to AI: a new frontier in the global gender gap

While the gender gap in STEM is well chronicled, new analysis conducted in collaboration with LinkedIn points to a glaring gender gap that is developing among AI professionals, where women represent only 22% of the AI workforce.This gap is three times larger than in other industry talent pools. The analysis also suggests that, in addition to being outnumbered three to one,women in AI are less likely to be positioned in senior roles or signal expertise in high-profile, emerging AI skills. The LinkedIn data suggest that women with AI skills are more likely to be employed as data analysts,researchers, information managers and teachers, whereas men are more likely to be employed as software engineers, heads of engineering, heads of IT and chief executives – more lucrative and senior positions.

Given the depth of the talent gender gap in AI, there is a clear need for proactive measures to prevent a deepening of the gender gap in other industries where AI skills are in increasing demand. These include traditionally male-dominated industries such as manufacturing, hardware and networking as well as software and IT services, as well as traditionally female sectors such as non-profits, healthcare and education.

“Industries must proactively hard wire gender parity in the future of work through effective training, re-skilling and up-skilling interventions andtangible job transition pathways, which will be key to narrowing these emerging gender gaps and reversing the trends we are seeing today. It’s in their long-term interest because diverse businesses perform better,” said Saadia Zahidi, Headof the Centre for the New Economy and Society and Member of the Managing Board,World Economic Forum.

“New forms of insights can help policymakers, employers and educationinstitutions understand – and prepare for – the technological changes that aretransforming the global economy. Shedding light on the persistent gender gapsin fast-growing fields like AI is a critical first step in creating policiesand practices that can close those gaps and create new pathways to economicopportunity,” said Allen Blue, Co-Founder and Vice-President, Product Strategy,LinkedIn.

Regional and countryhighlights
Having closed more than 85.8% of its overall gender gap, Iceland holds the top spot inthe Index for the 10th consecutive year. It has remained one of thefastest-improving countries in the world since 2006. Despite its topperformance, the country has seen a slight regression on economic participationand opportunity after an increased gender gap in the number of womenlegislators, senior officials and managers.

Other economies in the top 10 include Nordic countries Norway (2nd, 83.5%), Sweden (3rd, 82.2%), and Finland (4th, 82.1%), as wellas Nicaragua (5th,80.9%), which rose one spot, overtaking Rwanda (6th,80.4%), whose steady multi-year climb has come to a halt for the first time.The newest entrant to the top 10 is Namibia(10th, 78.9%), the second country from the sub-Saharan Africa region to do so.

Among the G20 group of countries, Franceonce again leads in 12th place (77.9%), dropping one spot from last year,followed by Germany(14th, 77.6%), the UnitedKingdom (15th, 77.4%), Canada(16th, 75.5%) and South Africa (19th, 75.5%). The United States drops two placesto 51st (72%) and six countries rank 100 or lower – China (103rd, 67.3%), India (108th, 66.5%), Japan (110th, 66.2%), Republic ofKorea (115th, 65.7%) Turkey (130th, 62.8%) and Saudi Arabia (141st, 59%).

At 75.8%, Western Europeis, on average, the region with the highest level of gender parity. At currentrates of progress, the overall gender gap in the region will be closed in 61years. It is home to four of the top five performers in the index –  Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Finland. Switzerland’s performance(20th, 75.5%) remains stable since last year, with progress on politicalempowerment counterbalanced by a widening gender gap on economic participationand opportunity.

Latin America and theCaribbean has an average remaining gender gap of 29.2%, makingit the third-highest ranked region. Mexico(50th, 72.1%) climbs several ranks after showing improvements across all foursubindexes, reaching its highest gender parity level to date. Chile (54th, 71.7%) followsclosely behind with an increased share of women in parliament. Argentina (36th, 73.3%) and Colombia (40th, 72.9%), two ofthe region’s largest economies, move down several ranks this year, and Brazil (95th, 68.1%), sees asignificant reversal in progress, with its overall gender gap standing at itswidest point since 2011.

After making progress on closing its gender gap for six consecutive years, sub-Saharan Africa’s gender gaphas started to widen again. Rwanda(6th, 80.4%) still leads in the region, despite moving down two ranks afterreversal in progress on economic participation and opportunity. Namibia’s rise is partly due toan increased share of women in parliament. South Africa (19th, 75.5%) registers some progresson the political empowerment subindex but also a slight decline in wageequality.

With an average remaining gap of 29.3%, it will take Eastern Europe and Central Asia153 years to close the gender gap. Latvia (17th,75.8%), Czech Republic (82nd,69.3%) and Slovak Republic(83rd, 69.3%) have fully closed their health and survival and educationalattainment gender gaps. The RussianFederation (75th, 70.1%) fully closed its gender gap insecondary education this year and sees improvements in wage equality and womenin leadership, yet other countries’ accelerated progress in the politicalempowerment dimension see the country moving down a few ranks from last year.

Home of two of the overall Index’s top 10 performers, and with an averageremaining gender gap of 31.7%, EastAsia and the Pacific scores in the middle of the range. Whileonly four countries in the region have fully closed their education attainmentgender gap, more than half of countries in this region have closed the gendergap for professional and technical workers, indicating a relatively successfulintegration of tertiary-educated, higher-skilled women into the labour force.Out of 18 countries in the region covered by the Index, 14 have increased theiroverall scores compared to last year.

With an average remaining gender gap of 27.5%, North America is one of the regions that has madethe most progress overall. Canada(16th, 77.1%) maintains its top spot in the region as well as its position inthe global top 20, with modest improvements across a range of gender parityindicators this year. The UnitedStates (51st, 72%), on the other hand, has moved down two spotssince last year, with modest improvements in economic opportunity andparticipation offset by a decrease in gender parity in ministerial-levelpositions.

South Asia isthe second-lowest-scoring region, with a remaining gender gap of 34.2%, aheadof the Middle East and North Africa, and behind sub-Saharan Africa. Bangladesh (48th, 72.1%) is theregion’s top performer and breaks into the global top five on politicalempowerment, despite a widening gap in labour force participation. India (108th, 66.5%) recordsimprovements in wage equality for similar work and fully closed its tertiaryeducation gap for the first time, but progress lags on health and survival,remaining the world’s least improved country on this subindex over the pastdecade. 

Despite continued progress in the MiddleEast and North Africa, the region continues to rank lastglobally on the overall index (60.2% gap closed so far), with about 153 yearsto close the gender gap at the current rate of change. The United Arab Emirates (121st,64.2%) sees improvements in gender parity in the legislators, senior officialsand managers and healthy life expectancy indicators, but a widening andcounterbalancing gap in wage equality. SaudiArabia (141st, 59%) shows modest progress, but marksimprovement on wage equality and women’s labour force participation, as well asa smaller gender gap in secondary and tertiary education.

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Centre for the New Economyand Society
The report is part of the Forum’s Centre for the New Economy and Society, whichaims to build dynamic and inclusive economies and societies that provide afuture of opportunities for all. It serves as a platform to understand andanticipate emerging economic and social trends and adapt policies and practicesto our rapidly evolving context. A portion of the centre’s work focuses onshaping frameworks for closing economic gender gaps, fostering diversity andpromoting inclusive growth. In particular, the centre serves as an acceleratorfor a global network of national Closing the Gender Gap Task Forces, which aimto increase women’s participation in the workforce; close the pay gap betweenmen and women; help more women advance into leadership; hardwire gender parityin the future of work; and amplify the efforts of individual companies throughglobal business commitments for accelerating gender parity.

The World Economic Forum,committed to improving the state of the world, is the InternationalOrganization for Public-Private Cooperation. The Forum engages the foremostpolitical, business and other leaders of society to shape global, regional andindustry agendas. (www.weforum.org).