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A new report from World Economic Forum paints a gloomy forecast for pay equity, but there are steps we can take to push for progress.

By Maressa Brown
April 01, 2021
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Credit: Getty Images.

Just as with many cracks in the system, the pandemic has shed light on pre-existing gender gaps and the pay equity crisis. Now, the World Economic Forum's annual Global Gender Gap Report, and it's clear just how much work needs to be done. The haunting key finding: At the current pace, it will take 61.5 years for women in North America to close the gender gap. And globally, it's even worse: It will take 135.6 years to reach gender parity, according to the report.

"Another generation of women will have to wait for gender parity," said the World Economic Forum in a statement.

They also acknowledged that the pandemic has worsened the dilemma, noting, "Preliminary evidence suggests that the health emergency and the related economic downturn have impacted women more severely than men, partially re-opening gaps that had already been closed."

The most notable takeaways for the U.S. and Canada include the fact that the U.S. has closed 76.3 percent of its gender gap and now ranks 30th in the world on women's issues. And both America and Canada need to focus on reducing gaps in wages and income for women, as both countries have yet to close over 30 percent of their gaps.

At the same time, many countries are setting an example for the rest of us. Iceland was named the most gender-equal country in the world for the twelfth time, and behind the land of fire and ice were Finland, Norway, New Zealand, Sweden, Namibia, Rwanda, Lithuania, Ireland, and Switzerland.

While the bad news is daunting, the report also pointed to practical solutions for the U.S. and other countries struggling with pay equity, which include:

1. Hardwire gender parity into the post-COVID-19 world of work.

This means reskilling women to be ready for re-employment in high-growth sectors and implementing gender-sensitive workforce planning and redeployment policies and strategies.

2. Close gender gaps in pay between and within sectors.

The report recommends pay reviews and appropriate remediation policies and improving work quality and pay standards across currently low-paid essential work.

3. Enable women's participation in the labor force.

The WEF suggests flexible/alternative work arrangements that support diverse workforces and enhancing social safety nets, specifically by providing child care support. (Can we get a round of applause for that one?)

4. Advance more women into management and leadership.

Countries must set targets for women in leadership on a government and business level.

The report notes that in looking ahead to gender-positive recovery, "it is possible to design systems and policies which boost gender parity in economic participation in the recovery phase, avoid scarring of the pandemic becoming permanent, and create more resilient socio-economic systems." It also explains that first, we need to be making "further investments in the care sector and for equitable access to care leave for men and women."

It's heartening to see that progress is possible—and that it's so strongly linked to expanded child care and access to family leave—but it'll require a communal effort to prevent the inequities of yesterday and today from continuing to shortchange women's futures.

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