Pandemic pushes back gender parity by a generation, report finds

Another generation of women will have to wait for gender parity, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2021. As the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to be felt, closing the global gender gap has increased by a generation from 99.5 years to 135.6 years.

Progress towards gender parity is stalling in several large economies and industries. This is partly due to women being more frequently employed in sectors hardest hit by lockdowns combined with the additional pressures of providing care at home.

The deterioration in 2021 is partly attributed to a widening political gender gap in several large population countries. Despite over half of the 156 indexed countries registering an improvement, women still hold only 26.1% of parliamentary seats and 22.6% of ministerial positions worldwide. On its current trajectory, the political gender gap is expected to take 145.5 years to close, compared to 95 years in the 2020 edition of the report, an increase of over 50%.

The economic gender gap has seen only a marginal improvement since the 2020 edition and is expected to take another 267.6 years to close. The slow progress is due to opposing trends – while the proportion of women among skilled professionals continues to increase, income disparities persist and few women are represented in managerial positions.

Although these findings are sobering, gender gaps in education and health are nearly closed. In education, while 37 countries have reached gender parity, it will take another 14.2 years to completely close this gap due to slowing progress. In health, over 95% of this gender gap has been closed, registering a marginal decline since last year.

COVID-19’s impact on women

The pandemic has had a more negative impact on women than men, with women losing jobs at higher rates (5% vs 3.9% among men, International Labor Organization), partly due to their disproportionate representation in sectors directly disrupted by lockdowns, such as the consumer sector. Data from the United States also indicates that women from historically disadvantaged racial and ethnic groups are worst affected.

Data from an Ipsos survey suggests that when care establishments closed, housework, childcare and eldercare responsibilities fell disproportionately on women, contributing to higher levels of stress and lower levels of productivity.

As the job market recovers, LinkedIn data shows that women are being hired at a slower rate in multiple industries. They are also less likely to be hired for leadership roles, resulting in a reversal of up to two years’ progress.

Sectors with historically low representation of women are also those with fast-growing “jobs of tomorrow”. In cloud computing, for example, women make up 14% of the workforce; in engineering, 20%; and in data and artificial intelligence, 32%; and it is more difficult for women to switch into these emerging roles than men. 

While care and education roles also offer areas of future growth and women have stronger representation, they are often lower-paid roles than other jobs of tomorrow.

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