World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report: Key Takeaways

May 10, 2021
Carolyn Grace

The past year has posed tremendous challenges for every sector and industry across the globe. But even in the midst of it, there has been an unprecedented opportunity for growth. The World Economic Forum (WEF) recently released its latest Global Gender Gap Report, with key insights that business leaders can use to address imbalances in gender parity and drive change.

Without a doubt, the pandemic has exposed the greater challenge of tackling systemic gender parity issues. Although COVID-19 slowed progress on economic equality, there’s reason to believe that it may actually lead to a more equitable world when all is said and done. Here are some key takeaways from the World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Report that can help your organization better address imbalances in gender parity.

COVID-19 Significantly Slowed Gender Parity Progress

This report looked at four specific gap areas across 156 nations:

  • Political empowerment
  • Economic participation and opportunity
  • Health and survival
  • Educational attainment

WEF found that women shouldered disproportionately greater burdens in each of these areas, as pandemic lockdowns across the globe brought many sectors to a standstill. Examples of this included:

  • Women suffering more setbacks in the hospitality industry.
  • Women predominantly managing basic childcare and domestic chores in their homes.
  • Women often taking on the new task of educating their children remotely while juggling their professional responsibilities.

Political Empowerment Has the Widest Gender Gap, But Is Making Strides

Of the four major gap areas, the greatest disparity was in political empowerment. However, some nations still made much needed progress.

  • 22% of the gender gap in this area has been closed across the world—a 2.4 percentage point decrease from last year.
  • That said, 98 nations made improvements in political participation, with more women in parliamentary positions than ever before.
  • Togo and Belgium each made history by electing their nation’s first female prime minister in the past calendar year.

Economic Recovery Plans May Help Address Gender Parity Imbalances

WEF’s Executive Chairman, Klaus Schwab, noted that the pandemic may actually present a chance for lawmakers and policymakers to address these continuing imbalances as part of the worldwide economic recovery. He stated:

“Leaders have a remarkable opportunity to build more resilient and gender-equal economies by creating more equitable care systems, and by encouraging women to transition into new roles based on their potential...Gender parity can become embedded into the future of work.”

This means that rather than viewing the pandemic and lockdowns as insurmountable obstacles, our society can leverage these challenges to drive a paradigm shift that promotes greater gender parity—starting with encouraging women to pursue new roles and explore new career paths.

Women Took Charge of Ethics and Compliance During COVID-19

The WEF’s focus on gender parity resonates particularly for the world of ethics and compliance. The pandemic has been especially difficult for women, many of whom lost jobs or had to take on additional responsibilities in the home and in the workplace. Another, more hidden story exists as well: more women did the work of ethics and compliance during the pandemic, even if not in an official capacity. 

Women were more likely tapped to be part of their organization’s crisis response teams. A recent study by our partners at the UN Global Compact found that nearly 90% of companies have women actively informing their COVID-19 response and making key decisions. This adds to a growing body of research demonstrating how gender parity yields better overall corporate performance and adherence to ethical, environmental, social, and governance standards.  

How to Take an Ethical Approach to Gender Parity at Your Company

A multi-ethnic group of businesswomen | WEF Gender Gap Report

While great strides have been made in some areas regarding gender parity, the challenges posed by the pandemic show there is clearly more work to be done. Businesses need to consider not only implementing the right approach to address gender parity, but also emphasizing that an ethical approach is the right move to make regardless of outcome. Fortunately, we’re seeing more and more business leaders emphasize the importance of ethics when solving these types of problems. According to our 2021 Ethics & Compliance Program Effectiveness Report, 82% of executives and E&C experts stated their firms emphasized company values, rather than rules and procedures, to motivate employees to do the right thing during the pandemic. 

The World Economic Forum also identified four key pillars last year that organizations can use to create “a clearly defined and practical agenda” that better ensures business integrity. We examined those pillars as well and outlined some ways you can apply them to help address gender parity at your organization:

  • Pillar 1: Commit to ethics and integrity beyond compliance. Hiring quotas aren't enough. Your organization must consider how it’s empowering women before they even get to the interview room. For example, have you considered the gender balance of your board of directors? How much representation is there across the C-suite level?
  • Pillar 2: Strengthen corporate culture and incentives to drive continuous learning and improvement. Voicing a commitment to gender parity in mission statements or on your website is a great first step. Next is determining how you’ll follow through on that promise. Implementing comprehensive training programs that address topics like inclusion, harassment, and subtle gender disparities engendered by microaggressions is a powerful way to show employees your commitment to building a more inclusive culture.
  • Pillar 3: Leverage technologies. At the end of the day, companies should be aiming to empower not only the women at their organization, but all employees. To achieve that, flexibility is key—both in company technologies and policies. Investing in videoconferencing and other digital tools that allow your employees to fully work from anywhere can provide significant help to working mothers, especially when issues like childcare are considered. Flexible work hours can also help women strike a better work-life balance.
  • Pillar 4: Support collective action to increase scale and impact. If your organization just spouts platitudes to employees, there’s no guarantee they’ll take them to heart and act on them. By integrating the themes of gender parity into your training programs and making it an important part of your organization from the top-down, you’re more likely to get comprehensive buy-in. Transforming your workplace culture will take creativity, patience, and resilience. In addition, getting your leadership team on board to support key changes is critical.

Adopting an ethical approach to gender parity as part of your standard operating procedure is not just the right thing to do—it’s also a strategic business move. Implementing these kinds of gender parity measures can help your business hire and retain talented women, creating a diverse staff who can contribute to the success of your organization. “The more you leverage your company values to empower women, the more access you have to creative and innovative solutions,” said LRN Senior Advisor, Susan Divers. “Between the World Economic Forum’s research and our Ethics & Compliance Program Effectiveness Report, we hope that leaders see the clear connections and benefits a values-based approach has on the success of their business and their employees—no matter their gender.”

For more than a decade LRN has been part of the WEF community, representing outstanding, global organizations chosen for their innovative business models, market influence, industry disruption, corporate citizenship, and visionary leadership. If you’re interested in assessing your own ethical culture and improving the work experience for women at your organization, connect with one of our Advisory experts for a consultation.

About the Author

Carolyn Grace

Carolyn Grace is a content writer on LRN's global marketing team. Her work involves turning complex ideas into compelling stories that resonate across business segments, industries, and personas while hitting critical KPIs for traffic, conversions, and customer retention. 

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