Progress towards closing gender pay gap slows around the world

Women across the globe earn on average  just over half of what men earn despite, on average, working longer hours when taking paid and unpaid work into account. The world is facing an acute misuse of talent by not acting faster to tackle this gender inequality, which could put economic growth at risk and deprive economies of the opportunity to develop, warns the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2016, which is published today. The latest edition of the annual benchmarking exercise that measures progress towards parity between men and women in four areas: Educational Attainment, Health and Survival, Economic Opportunity and Political Empowerment finds that progress towards parity in the key economic pillar has slowed dramatically with the gap – which stands at 59 percent – now larger than at any point since 2008. Aside from salary, another persistent challenge is stagnant labour force participation, with the global average for women standing at 54 percent, compared to 81 percent for men. The UK is ranked 20th overall in the global index and of those countries in Western Europe, the UK falls in the bottom half of the table.  In respect of economic participation and opportunity, the UK is ranked 53.

Lauren Pullen-Stanley, senior associate in the employment team at law firm Norton Rose Fulbright commented: “Disappointingly, the report suggests that progress towards closing the economic gap peaked in 2013 and the progress has in fact reversed since then.  The benefits of improving gender parity are numerous but for those focused on economic dividends, notable recent estimates suggest that economic gender parity could add an additional US$240 billion to the GDP of the United Kingdom. We wait with bated breath for the final UK gender pay gap regulations and how they may contribute to improving gender parity in the UK over the coming years.”

Across the world, the number of women in senior positions also remains stubbornly low, with only four countries in the world having equal numbers of male and female legislators, senior officials and managers, despite the fact that 95 countries now have as many – if not more – women educated at university level. In 2015, projections based on the Global Gender Gap Report data suggested that the economic gap could be closed within 118 years, or 2133. However the progress has reversed since then, having peaked in 2013.

The slow rate of progress towards gender parity, especially in the economic realm, poses a particular risk given the fact that many jobs that employ a majority of women are likely to be hit proportionately hardest by the coming age of technological disruption known as the Fourth Industrial Revolution. This “hollowing out” of female livelihoods could deprive economies further of women’s talents and increases the urgency for more women to enter high-growth fields such as those demanding STEM skills. “Women and men must be equal partners in managing the challenges our world faces – and in reaping the opportunities. Both voices are critical in ensuring the Fourth Industrial Revolution delivers its promise for society,” said Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum.

With women on average benefiting form only two-thirds of the access to health, education, economic participation and political representation that men have, a number of nations are emerging to challenge the traditional hegemony of the Nordic nations as the world’s most gender-equal societies. While the leading four nations are Iceland (1), Finland (2), Norway (3) and Sweden (4) – with Finland overtaking Norway – the next highest placed nation is Rwanda, which moves one place ahead of Ireland to 5th position. Following Ireland, the Philippines remains unchanged at 7th, narrowly ahead of Slovenia (8) and New Zealand (9), which both move up one place. With Switzerland dropping out of the top 10, 10th position is taken up by Nicaragua.

Elsewhere, the United States (45) loses 17 places since last year, primarily due to a more transparent measure for the estimated earned income. Other major economies in the top 20 include Germany (13), France (17) and the United Kingdom (20). Among the BRICS grouping, the highest-placed nation remains South Africa (15), which moves up two places since last year with improvements across all pillars. The Russian Federation (75) is next, followed by Brazil (79). India (87) gains 21 spots and overtakes China (99) with improvements across Economic Participation and Opportunity and Educational Attainment.

Countries from Western Europe – including the three largest economies, France, Germany and the UK – occupy 11 of the top 20 positions in the Index. While some countries have clear room for improvement (Italy drops 9 places to 50; Greece drops 5 to 92), it has now closed 75 percent of its gender gap, more than any other region. At the current rate, it could expect to close its economic gender gap within 47 years.

“These forecasts are not foregone conclusions. Instead, they reflect the current state of progress and serve as a call to action to policy-makers and other stakeholders to double down on efforts to accelerate gender equality,” said Saadia Zahidi, Head of Education, Gender and Work, and Member of the Executive Committee at the World Economic Forum.

To view the whole report click here.

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