Gender equality at work and in politics is still a lifetime away, WEF says

Still fighting.
Still fighting.
Image: Reuters/Siegfried Modola
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

The World Economic Forum’s annual Global Gender Gap report, which gives a snapshot of progress or regression in the worldwide fight for gender parity in key areas including politics, work, and education, always makes sobering reading. For one thing, historically it hasn’t even measured a consistant trend toward equality—last year the overall gap between men and women widened significantly, and this year the economics gap is wider than the massive gap recorded last year.

The sheer projected timescales, meanwhile, are staggering. The WEF suggests that at current trends, the overall gap between men and women globally, on average across the 107 countries covered since the report first came out in 2006, won’t close for another 99.5 years.

The picture on economic participation and opportunity is even worse. On current trends across all 153 countries the report now covers, it will take 257 years to close the gap, a big widening from the 202-year estimate produced last year.

On some measures, like educational attainment and survival, women are close to catching up with men globally.

The problems are concentrated in two particular fields: politics, and work.

In 2019, global politics in fact saw some improvement when it came to gender parity: More women participated in the highest levels of government in more places, a trend that can be seen in the UK’s most recent elections, which returned the highest number of female members of parliament on record, and in Finland, where Sanna Marin this month became the country’s youngest serving prime minister, at 34, in a parliament where the five major parties are all led by women.

But economic participation went backward. WEF worked with career platform LinkedIn to study why. It found that jobs in which women are overrepresented—like white-collar clerical roles—are being replaced by automation quickly. Meanwhile jobs with the most growth have fewer women. In cloud computing, for example, the report finds that only 12% of jobs are held by women; in engineering, it’s only 15%. There are just two out of nine growth industries in which women have over half the job share: “people and culture,” and “content production.”

Meanwhile, structural problems like lack of flexibility, worse pay, and unequal promotion means they do less well in the jobs they have. It adds up to what the WEF describes as a “triple whammy” for women’s economic equality.

The WEF suggests that any fixes need to happen in tandem: More women need encouragement to train in “disruptive technical skills,” but at the same time industries need to change so that women making the choice to learn new skills can see career paths that are truly open to them.